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Chavez v. Dole Food Company, Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 30, 2013

TOBIAS BERMUDEZ CHAVEZ, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DOLE FOOD COMPANY, INC., et al., Defendants. JULIO ABREGO ABREGO, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DOLE FOOD COMPANY, INC., et al., Defendants. ALVARADO ALFARO MIGUEL FRANCISCO, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DOLE FOOD COMPANY, INC., et al., Defendants. JORGE LUIS AGUILAR MORA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DOLE FOOD COMPANY, INC., et al., Defendants. EDWIN AGUERO JIMINEZ, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DOLE FOOD COMPANY, INC., et al., Defendants. GONZALEZ ARAYA FRANKLIN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DOLE FOOD COMPANY, INC., et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

RICHARD C. ANDREWS, District Judge.

In these consolidated cases, Plaintiffs brought causes of action against numerous defendants for injuries stemming from alleged misuse of dibromochloropropane ("DBCP") on banana plantations in Panama, Ecuador, Guatemala and/or Costa Rica. Plaintiffs filed their claims against the same Defendants in the Eastern District of Louisiana.[1] Based on the first-filed rule, the Court dismissed the cases against five defendants in August, 2012. (D.I. 22, 23).[2] In September, 2012, the Eastern District of Louisiana granted Defendants' motions for summary judgment based on the statute of limitations, and dismissed Plaintiffs' claims there with prejudice. Chaverri v. Dole Food Co., Inc., 896 F.Supp.2d 556 (E.D. La. 2012). Plaintiffs appealed, and that appeal remains pending. (D.I. 56 at 3). Meanwhile, all remaining Defendants except Chiquita Brands International, Inc. ("Chiquita") moved to dismiss based on the first-filed rule, which the Court granted in March, 2013. (D.I. 71).

A similar DBCP case with different parties has also been pending in the Delaware state courts. In August, 2012, the Delaware Superior Court denied defendants' motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations, ruling, in part, that the statute of limitations was tolled even though the original filing was in another jurisdiction, based on litigation originating in a Texas state court previously filed by one of the Delaware state court plaintiffs. See Blanco v. AMVAC Chern. Corp., 2012 WL 3194412 (Del. Super. Aug. 8, 2012). The Superior Court then certified for interlocutory appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court the issue of whether Delaware recognizes cross-jurisdictional tolling. (D.I. 36 at Ex. C).

Plaintiffs moved to stay this case pending the Delaware Supreme Court's ruling on the cross-jurisdictional tolling issue, and for reconsideration of dismissal based on the first-filed rule. The remaining defendant, Chiquita, moved for dismissal based on lack of personal jurisdiction, res judicata and the statute of limitations, and moved for a more definite statement or to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Plaintiffs' motions to stay and for reconsideration are denied; Chiquita's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction is granted; and Chiquita's remaining motions to dismiss are dismissed as moot.

1. Plaintiffs' Motion to Stay

Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Stay Pending Delaware Supreme Court Ruling on Cross-Jurisdictional Tolling (D.I. 36) and related briefing (D.I. 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51). The reasons advanced for granting a stay are to allow the Delaware Supreme Court to rule on the cross-jurisdictional tolling issue and to avoid piecemeal appeals. If this Court were going to decide the cross-jurisdictional tolling issue, the Plaintiffs argument might have merit. The Court, however, need not decide that issue. Further, the Court has denied the request for Rule 54(b) certification submitted by some Defendants. I do not intend to allow piecemeal appeals. Therefore, there is no reason to grant a stay. Plaintiffs' Motion to Stay is denied.

2. Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion for Reconsideration

Also before the Court is Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion[3] for Reconsideration of this Court's Dismissal Order of August 21, 2012 (D.I. 56) and related briefing (D.I. 63, 64, 67). Plaintiffs have not shown any intervening change in the controlling law, any new evidence, or any need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice. See Max's Seafood Cafe ex rel. Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). As the Court explained in granting the second motion to dismiss based on the first-filed rule, the litigation in the Eastern District of Louisiana remains pending so long as the appellate process continues. (D.I. 71). One of the goals of the first-filed rule is to avoid separate appeals based on conflicting rulings. Crosley Corp. v. Hazeltine Corp., 122 F.2d 925, 930 (3d Cir. 1941). Plaintiffs appealed, continuing to avail themselves of the entirely fair process in the venue they chose, and one bite at the apple remains sufficient. (D.I. 56 at 3; D.I. 22). Further, Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion is based on a September 17, 2012 ruling in the Eastern District of Louisiana, but was not filed until December 17, 2012. Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion is therefore also untimely. Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion is denied.

3. Defendant Chiquita's Motion for Dismissal ofClaims Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2)

Also before the Court is Defendant Chiquita Brands International, Inc.'s Motion for Dismissal of Claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2) (D.I. 37) and related briefing (D.I. 38, 57, 58, 68). In opposing the Motion, Plaintiffs argue this Court has general jurisdiction over Chiquita, implicitly conceding there is no specific jurisdiction over Chiquita; in the alternative, Plaintiffs request jurisdictional discovery or transfer of their case against Chiquita to New Jersey.

When reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(2), a court must accept as true all allegations of jurisdictional fact made by the plaintiff and resolve all factual disputes in the plaintiffs favor. Traynor v. Liu, 495 F.Supp.2d 444, 448 (D.Del. 2007). Once a jurisdictional defense has been raised, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing, with reasonable particularity, that sufficient minimum contacts have occurred between the defendant and the forum to support jurisdiction. See Provident Nat'l Bank v. Cal. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 819 F.2d 434, 437 (3d Cir. 1987). To meet this burden, the plaintiff must produce "sworn affidavits or other competent evidence, " since a Rule 12(b)(2) motion "requires resolution of factual issues outside the pleadings." Time Share Vacation Club v. Atlantic Resorts, Ltd., 735 F.2d 61, 67 n. 9 (3d Cir. 1984).

Determining the existence of personal jurisdiction requires a two-part analysis. First, the Court must consider whether a defendant's actions come within any of the provisions of Delaware's long-arm statute. See Intel v. Broadcom, 167 F.Supp.2d 692, 700 (D.Del. 2001). Next, the Court must determine whether exercising jurisdiction over the defendant in this state comports with the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. See id. Due Process is satisfied ifthe Court finds the existence of "minimum contacts" between the non-resident defendant and the forum state, "such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (internal quotation marks omitted).

With respect to the first-step statutory inquiry, the Court applies the law of the state in which the district court is located. See Intel, 167 F.Supp.2d at 700. Delaware's long-arm statute authorizes jurisdiction over a non-resident when that party or its agent:

Causes tortious injury in [Delaware] or outside of [Delaware] by an act or omission outside [of Delaware] if the person regularly does or solicits business, engages in any other persistent course of conduct in [Delaware] or derives substantial revenue from services, or things used or consumed in [Delaware.] 10 Del. C. ยง 3104(c)(4). This section confers general jurisdiction, such that while a general presence in Delaware is necessary to assert jurisdiction, the contacts of the non-resident (or its agent) need not relate to the instant litigation. See Reach & Assocs., P.C. v. Dencer, 269 F.Supp.2d ...

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