Aldana v. Del Monte Fresh Produce N.A., Inc., 741 F.3d 1349 (11th Cir. 2014) [click for opinion]

A group of Guatemalan labor organizers had filed suit in a U.S. federal court against Fresh Del Monte Produce, Inc., claiming that it was responsible for armed kidnapping, intimidation, and torture on a Guatemalan banana plantation in 1999.  The Eleventh Circuit previously affirmed dismissal of the claim on forum non conveniens grounds.  After the dismissal, Plaintiffs filed suit in Guatemala.

Guatemalan law has a forum non conveniens blocking statute, pursuant to which the doctrine of forum non conveniens is “unacceptable, inapplicable, and invalid when invoked to prevent the trial from continuing in the defendant’s domicile Courts.”  Since Defendant's domicile was in the United States, the Guatemalan court considered the U.S. dismissal onforum non conveniens ground to be invalid and refused to consider the case. 

Plaintiffs did not appeal the Guatemalan court’s dismissal.  Instead, Plaintiffs sought to reinstate the action in federal court, arguing that the original dismissal was merely a conditional order and not a final judgment. Plaintiffs argued that their original action was dismissed with the condition that they could move for reconsideration of the dismissal and that the condition had been satisfied based on their failure to be able to proceed in Guatemala.  Thus, Plaintiffs proceeded on the theory that there was no final judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6). However, the district court ruled that the prior dismissal was a final judgment and refused to reopen the case in the absence of the exceptional circumstances required under Rule 60(b)(6).

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed.  One reason for the court's decision was the fact that the Guatemalan blocking statute has an exception, which provides that “if a foreign judge is informed of the scope” of the blocking law “and he declines to hear the case…Guatemalan courts may reassume jurisdiction as an exceptional measure and to avoid depriving Guatemalan nationals and residents of due process.”  Plaintiffs did not inform the district court of this exception during the original motion practice, even though they were aware of it at the time.  The Eleventh Circuit called this “gamesmanship.”

Under these facts, the Eleventh Circuit noted, Rule 60(b)(6) does not provide relief, as Plaintiffs could not justify their failure to mention the blocking law or the unavailability of a foreign forum to the district court during the original proceedings.  Citing other Eleventh Circuit precedent, the Eleventh Circuit found, “a plaintiff who has no good explanation for failing to contest the availability of a foreign forum during an initial forum non conveniens determination in federal court is not entitled to Rule 60(b)(6) relief later on the basis of the foreseeable unavailability of a foreign court.”  Additionally, the Eleventh Circuit found compelling a related doctrine expounded by other circuit courts: a party cannot avoid an initialforum non conveniens dismissal based on the unavailability of an alternative forum when the unavailability is a product of its own purposeful conduct.