By JENNIFER KAY
Associated Press Writer
MIAMI (AP) -- A judge has said a $97 million judgment against U.S. food giant Dole and Dow Chemical Co. cannot be enforced because the Nicaraguan court that issued it neither had jurisdiction nor met international legal standards.
A trial court in Chinandega, Nicaragua, had awarded the money in 2005 to 150 Nicaraguan citizens who said they worked on Dole banana plantations between 1970 and 1982.
The workers said they had been exposed to a pesticide, dibromochloropropoane or DBCP, that was banned in the U.S. after it was linked to sterility in factory workers in 1977. Dow made DBCP from 1957 until 1977, and Dole used it on the banana farms it operated in Nicaragua until 1979.
The court awarded the compensation to the plantation workers for infertility caused by the pesticide under a special law enacted by the Nicaraguan legislature in 2000 specifically to handle their claims.
That law "unfairly discriminates against a handful of foreign defendants with extraordinary procedures and presumptions found nowhere else in Nicaraguan law," U.S. District Judge Paul Huck wrote in his order Tuesday.
Huck's criticism of the special law and the trial court proceedings cited U.S. State Department reports concluding that Nicaragua lacks an effective civil law system, with judges susceptible to corruption and political influence.
"The Nicaraguan trial court found exposure to DBCP simply from the fact that a plaintiff purportedly worked on a banana farm, without regard for the type of work performed (and whether it involved exposure to DBCP) or the duration of the work," Huck wrote.
Phone messages and e-mails to the banana workers' attorneys and the companies' spokesmen and lawyers in Miami were not immediately returned Wednesday, nor was a phone message left for a spokesman at the Nicaraguan embassy in Washington.
Dole and Dow's appeal of the judgment in Nicaraguan appellate court is still pending.
The companies also contended that the judgment was part of a conspiracy by the banana plantation workers' attorneys to make fake DBCP claims in Nicaragua and the U.S. Those allegations were handled as a separate case.
In June, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney dismissed that case, citing an "outrageous and profound" conspiracy to extort Dole with false claims by purported plantation workers who said they had been rendered sterile by exposure to the pesticide DBCP in the 1970s.
Testimony showed the men were not plantation workers and were recruited by a Los Angeles lawyer and a Nicaraguan associate to lie. Chaney blamed at least four law firms, corrupt Nicaraguan judges who accepted bribes and at least four medical labs that were paid to fake the results of sterility tests.
Since Chaney's ruling, Dole has petitioned a California appeals court to dismiss yet another case based on the same evidence. Dole claims that a $1.6 million judgment awarded before the alleged fraud was uncovered should be dismissed.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.