COURT ENTERS FINAL ORDER VACATING JUDGMENT, DISMISSING FRAUDULENT LAWSUIT BROUGHT BY NICARAGUANS CLAIMING TO HAVE BEEN BANANA WORKERS
WESTLAKE VILLAGE, California - March 15, 2011
Dole Food Company, Inc., (NYSE:DOLE) today announced that the Los Angeles Superior Court issued its final order in Tellez v. Dole. The Statement of Decision formally vacates an earlier judgment and dismisses with prejudice the lawsuit brought by Nicaraguan plaintiffs claiming to have been banana workers on Dole-contracted farms in Nicaragua during the 1970s. The dismissal came as a result of the Court’s finding “upon clear and convincing evidence that the Tellez judgment of October 6, 2008, was the product of a fraud on the court and extrinsic fraud perpetrated against defendants by [plaintiffs’ lawyers] and their agents.”
The Court summarized that fraud as follows: “[T]hat [plaintiffs’ lawyers] coached their clients to lie about working on banana farms, forged work certificates to create the appearance that their clients had worked on Dole-contracted farms, and faked lab results to create the impression that their clients were sterile. [Plaintiffs’ lawyers] and their agents also tampered with witnesses, and . . . threatened witnesses and took other actions to carry out the fraud.”
The Statement of Decision formalizes Justice Victoria Chaney’s July 15, 2010 oral ruling. It was issued after the Court held “more than 20 hearings” as part of “a year-long evidentiary process,” and “reviewed the sworn testimony of 27 protected witnesses describing the fraud at work in these cases, heard plaintiffs’ fact witnesses and experts, and reviewed the more than 400 exhibits submitted by the parties.”
At issue in this exhaustive evidentiary process was the earlier $1.58 million judgment against Dole in favor of four of the 12 Nicaraguan plaintiffs claiming sterility from DBCP exposure while allegedly working on Dole-contracted farms. It was undertaken in response to a July 7, 2009 order issued to plaintiffs by the California Second District Court of Appeal. It directed them to show cause for why the judgment should not be vacated on the grounds that it was procured through fraud.
The decision in Tellez is the latest in a string of similar rulings in cases that follow this same pattern of fraud. In 2009, the Court in Los Angeles dismissed two similar DBCP lawsuits, Mejia v. Dole and Rivera v. Dole, finding that the claims were "built on somebody's imagination, a case that was put together by smoke and mirrors." Also in 2009, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida denied recognition and enforcement of a Nicaragua judgment against Dole that was based on fraudulent DBCP claims, holding that “the credible and unrefuted medical testimony in this case is that it is factually impossible for what is represented in the Judgment to have occurred.”
“The fraudulent claims in Tellez lacked any credibility whatsoever and, like other DBCP lawsuits, never should have been brought in the first place,” said C. Michael Carter, Dole's Executive Vice President and General Counsel. “The written findings represent a tremendous effort by the Court to get to the right decision from the real facts in this case, despite every effort by plaintiffs to derail the process,” Carter added. For example, plaintiffs and their counsel violated court orders not to publicly disclose certain information, filed a false complaint with the California state bar that was rejected out of hand, and manufactured arguments that Dole bribed witnesses, about which the Court held: “Dole did not bribe witnesses and the purported evidence in support of plaintiffs’ claims lacks credibility.”
Although the claims of the Tellez plaintiffs were found to be “a direct product of the fraudulent scheme,” the Statement of Decision confirms that they “did not conceive or execute the plan to bring fraudulent claims on their own.” Justice Chaney found that “[a]t least one attorney in the United States, [Los Angeles attorney Juan] Dominguez, and one in Nicaragua affiliated with him, [Antonio Hernandez] Ordeñana, engineered a scheme to bring to court bogus plaintiffs claiming they were banana workers injured by exposure to DBCP during the 1970s.”
Unfortunately, “[t]he fraud is ongoing.” Justice Chaney found that “escalating threats of violence and other events directed against witnesses and investigators continues to the present day in Nicaragua.”
“There is simply no reliable scientific basis for alleged injuries from the agricultural field application of DBCP, and Tellez and other similar cases should never have been filed,” reiterated Carter. “Despite that fact, Dole continues to seek a reasonable resolution to pending litigation and claims in the U.S and Latin America.”
Dole is the world’s largest producer and marketer of high-quality fresh fruit and fresh vegetables, and is the leading producer of organic bananas. Dole markets a growing line of packaged and frozen foods and is a produce industry leader in nutrition education and research.