Chastising the Plaintiffs for forum shopping, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld a district court’s decision to dismiss a matter with prejudice on the grounds that the Plaintiffs had previously filed nearly identical claims before another federal district court. See Chavez v. Dole Food Co., Inc., 796 F.3d 261, 264 (3dCir. Aug. 11, 2015). While related litigation has been winding its way through U.S. courts since 1993, this case relates only to federal actions filed first in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, and later the United States District Court for the District of Delaware.
Plaintiffs are foreign agricultural workers who allege that they suffered injuries from the misuse of the pesticide dibromochloropropane (DBCP) while working on banana farms throughout Central America from the 1960s to the 1980s. In June 2011, several suits were filed in federal court in Louisiana, which were then consolidated. Dole, a primary defendant, moved for summary judgment of the consolidated matter on statute of limitation grounds, which the Court granted in September 2012. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the decision in September 2013.
In June 2012, while Dole’s summary judgment motion was still pending before the Louisiana court, the Appellants filed lawsuits in federal court in Delaware that were “materially identical” to the Louisiana cases. Later that month, Dole filed a motion to dismiss the Delaware actions on the basis of the “first-filed” rule, which gives the first court that had possession of a matter deference to decide that case when a matter is pending before two separate federal courts that have concurrent federal jurisdiction. The Delaware federal court granted Dole’s motion, dismissing the later-filed actions with prejudice.
The Third Circuit upheld the Delaware court’s decision, noting the appellants’ “blatant forum shopping” and reasoning that a district court has discretion to dismiss a matter that, at the time of its filing, was duplicative of a matter previously brought in another district court. The Court cited the “first-filed rule,” which “counsels deference to the suit that was filed first, when two lawsuits involving the same issues and parties are pending in separate federal district courts.” Id. at *11.