Birmingham court dismisses suit against Drummond

AP News
Posted: Nov 11, 2009 10:05 AM

A federal court in Birmingham has dismissed a lawsuit against Drummond Company Inc. but is allowing plaintiffs in another case to amend their complaint claiming the company funded a paramilitary group allegedly responsible for dozens of killings in Colombia.

The court issued its findings on Monday. The suits are similar to one that alleged the Birmingham-based coal operator was responsible for the deaths of Colombian union leaders outside a coal mine eight years ago. The company operates a large coal mine and railroad in the South American country.

That suit, which was filed by the men's union and widows, ended with a verdict for Drummond Co. Inc. in 2007. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict in December 2008.

The children of three slain Colombian union leaders filed a second lawsuit in March, saying they had new access to a key witness who couldn't testify in the first trial because he was in prison. It sought an unspecified amount of money to punish the company and compensate for the killings.

The court dismissed the suit Monday on the grounds that plaintiffs either were bound by the prior judgment or lacked standing to bring suit for the injuries they claimed.

Calls late Tuesday to an attorney for the children, Terry Collingsworth, were not immediately returned.

The third suit was filed by relatives of dozens of slain Colombians and accused Drummond of making millions of dollars in payments to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, also known as AUC.

It said the paramilitary group received payments from Drummond operatives to allegedly assassinate top union leaders and protect the company's mine and railroad.

Drummond moved to dismiss the lawsuit on several grounds, including the lack of a basis to find that the defendants conspired with or aided and abetted paramilitaries in acts of violence.

The court found Monday that the company's motion to dismiss "has merit" but it granted the plaintiffs' request to amend their complaint before a final ruling is made.