Academic journal article Harvard Law Review

Civil Procedure - Pleading Requirements - Eleventh Circuit Dismisses Alien Tort Statute Claims against Coca-Cola under Iqbal's Plausibility Pleading Standard

Academic journal article Harvard Law Review

Civil Procedure - Pleading Requirements - Eleventh Circuit Dismisses Alien Tort Statute Claims against Coca-Cola under Iqbal's Plausibility Pleading Standard

Article excerpt

CIVIL PROCEDURE--PLEADING REQUIREMENTS--ELEVENTH CIRCUIT DISMISSES ALIEN TORT STATUTE CLAIMS AGAINST COCA-COLA UNDER IQBAL'S PLAUSIBILITY PLEADING STANDARD.--Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola Co., No. 06-15851, 2009 WL 2431463 (11th Cir. Aug. 11, 2009).

According to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, pleadings that state claim for relief must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." (1) For half century, this requirement was minimal: to state a valid claim and survive early motions to dismiss, a claimant needed to provide notice of the general nature and basis of the claim but no significant amount of evidentiary support. (2) Two years ago, however, in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, (3) the Supreme Court unsettled black-letter pleading liberality by requiring pleadings to contain "enough facts to state claim to relief that is plausible on its face." (4) The Court's decision last Term in Ashcroft v. Iqbal (5) firmly entrenched Twombly's demand for greater factual specificity. (6) Recently, in Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola Co., (7) the Eleventh Circuit gave an early indication of how Iqbal and Twombly might be applied within the context of human rights litigation. The court dismissed claims brought under the Alien Tort Statute (8) (ATS) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (9) (TVPA) against The Coca-Cola Company and two Colombian bottling companies for alleged collaboration with paramilitaries and local police in the torture and murder of local union leaders. Although some observers may view the arrival of plausibility pleading as an unwelcome burden on ATS plaintiffs, an insistence on greater factual specificity in human rights pleadings will have several positive effects in this controversial type of litigation.

For decades, Colombia has been embroiled in a bloody civil conflict driven by drug cartels, guerillas, and paramilitary forces. (10) Colombian unions have often been targets of political violence: more than 4000 union members have been killed since 1986. (11) One such victim was Isidro Segundo Gil, a local union leader who allegedly was murdered by paramilitary forces inside the Coca-Cola bottling facility of Bebidas y Alimentos de Uraba, S.A. (Bebidas). (12) Gil's estate and his former union, Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria de Alimentos (Sinaltrainal), sued Bebidas, The Coca-Cola Company (Coca-Cola USA), and Coca-Cola de Colombia, S.A. (Coca-Cola Colombia). (13) In three other complaints, Sinaltrainal sued the Coca-Cola defendants and Panamco Colombia, S.A. (Panamco) because paramilitaries and local police had also allegedly tortured and intimidated union leaders at Panamco Coca-Cola bottling facilities. (14) All four complaints alleged that bottling facility managers had conspired with the armed groups, (15) and endeavored to connect the various defendants to the violence throug a series of conspiracy and agency theories. (16) The plaintiffs contended that the ATS and the TVPA provided the district court with subject matter jurisdiction. (17)

In 2003, the district court dismissed the claims against Coca-Cola USA and Coca-Cola Colombia for want of subject matter jurisdiction because the plaintiffs' agency theories were too attenuated to state a valid ATS or TVPA claim. (18) According to the court, the bottler's agreements gave the Coca-Cola companies a limited right to protect their products in the marketplace but did not give them the degree of control over the bottling facilities' operations and labor policies that the plaintiffs alleged. (19) Without such control, the plaintiffs could not show that the Coca-Cola defendants had acted in concert with the paramilitaries and local police. (20) The same court dismissed the plaintiffs' remaining claims in 2006, (21) apparently uncomfortable (22) with the increasingly common use of the ATS to sue corporations for human rights violations committed by other actors in foreign countries. …

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