D.C. Circuit Rejects Toxic Tort Claims Based on Aerial Spraying of Herbicide
Reinforcing the importance of standing and causation in toxic tort cases, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the entry of summary judgment in favor of Defendant DynCorp on key claims arising from the aerial spraying of herbicides on illegal coca crops in Colombia. See Arias v. DynCorp, No. 13-7044 (D.C. Cir. May 30, 2014). A group of Ecuadorian provinces and farmers brought suit alleging damages from the spraying near the Colombia-Ecuador border, arguing both that the herbicides drifted and that some planes inadvertently crossed the border resulting in direct spraying of Ecuadorian land. Plaintiffs alleged that the spraying caused health problems and drove people away from the affected areas, which forced the provinces to invest in additional schools and health centers and harmed their financial interests.
The D.C. Circuit held that Plaintiffs lacked Article III standing because they failed to allege injury-in-fact and failed to prove that the financial injuries were traceable to DynCorp’s spraying. For example, the provinces claimed that they built health centers to address the high infant-mortality rate but did not contend that the medical issues were caused by spraying. The court held that the district court properly dismissed the individual Plaintiffs’ claims for crop damages because they failed to provide expert testimony demonstrating general causation. The D.C. Circuit dismissed all of Plaintiffs’ claims, except those for battery, nuisance, and intentional infliction of emotional distress because expert testimony was not necessary to prove those claims.
The authors gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Monisola O. Salaam in the preparation of this article.