February 10, 2017 — Hughes Hubbard squeezed out a victory for TicoFrut S.A. when a Florida federal magistrate judge denied fruit giant Del Monte's request to garnish the Costa Rican juice company's debt to a pineapple grower to satisfy a $32 million arbitral award against the grower.
On Jan. 30, 2017, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman issued a report and recommendation that concluded Del Monte International GmbH could not invoke Florida's post-judgment garnishment statute against TicoFrut for an unconfirmed arbitral award.
Del Monte is seeking to confirm the $32 million arbitral award it won last year from Costa Rican farm company Inprosta in a separate lawsuit that is pending.
"It is undisputed that Del Monte does not have a judgment against Inprosta," Judge Goodman wrote. "All that it has is an arbitration award. Del Monte has not convinced me that an arbitration award is the functional equivalent of a judgment for purposes of invoking the state's post-judgment garnishment statute."
Del Monte sued TicoFrut for allegedly buying "black market" pineapples from Inprosta after Inprosta had been ordered by an ICC arbitral panel to pay Del Monte $32 million and destroy nearly all of the vegetative material on its plantation. After the award was issued, Del Monte claims it warned TicoFrut, a non-party to the contract and to the arbitration proceeding, to stop buying pineapples from Inprosta. Thereafter, Del Monte sued TicoFrut in Florida state court, asserting claims for tortious interference, conspiracy and aiding and abetting Inprosta in allegedly violating the arbitration award and the contract. TicoFrut subsequently removed the action to federal court in the Southern District of Florida.
In his report, Judge Goodman recommended that U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez, who is presiding over the underlying dispute and referred the motion to him, reject Del Monte's request to garnish the debt. Judge Goodman's report and recommendation is without prejudice, and therefore Del Monte could attempt to seek garnishment under Florida's pre-judgment garnishment statute.
TicoFrut is part of the Pellas Group of Nicaragua with participation by the Motta Group of Panama. The Pellas Group is one of the largest conglomerates in Central America, with holdings that include sugar mills in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Panama, Flor de Caña rum and BAC Florida Bank in the U.S. The Motta Group's holdings include significant stakes in Copa Airlines and Banco General in Panama.
Ruben Diaz, Nick Swerdloff, Aviva Wernick, Joann Velez, Jeff Goldberg, Ryan Kim, Gil Ben-Ezra and Margot Warhit are representing TicoFrut.