A California judge has ordered lawyers representing two US seafood companies to appear in court for a scheduling conference following a lawsuit filed on behalf of seven Cambodians who claim they were duped into a life of servitude working in factories that supply the firms.
The alleged victims – five men and two women – filed the complaint against US-registered companies Rubicon Resources and Wales & Co Universe, and Thai firms Phatthana Seafood Co., and S.S. Frozen Food Co., on June 15. In the complaint, the plaintiffs say they were tricked into working for the companies and spent nearly two years – between 2010 and 2012 – living in “forced labor, servitude, and peonage.”
Judge John F. Walter ordered the lawyers to appear in court on September 19 to present their arguments, evidence and explain their case for US jurisdiction, which the defense claims is lacking.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs will also present claims for damages.
“If counsel fail to file the required joint report or fail to appear at the scheduling conference and such failure is not otherwise satisfactorily explained to the court the cause shall stand dismissed for failure to prosecute, if such a failure occurs on the part of the plaintiff,” the court order said. “Default judgment shall be entered if such failure occurs on the part of the defendant.”
Milstein Sellers &Toll PLLC is representing the Cambodian victims and Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP is representing the companies.
In an earlier phone conference, on August 3, the defense argued that the court does not hold jurisdiction because the alleged conduct does not meet the legal requirements.
“Defendants’ counsel views the conduct alleged as [a] labor dispute wholly occurring outside the United States,” it said.
The plaintiff’s lawyers argued that the court holds jurisdiction under both the Torture Victim Protection Act and the Alien Tort Statute.
A call to a lawyer at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton was not returned.
The defense lawyers previously won a one-month extension from the original deadline to submit arguments and evidence, scheduled for July 15, saying that their clients were based in rural areas of Thailand where there was no access to the Internet. The deadline was then extended to August 10.
“Such a delay is like buying time to prepare something that is not good because this case happened long time ago,” Keo Ratha, one of the victims, told VOA Khmer.
Moeun Tola, executive director of the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, also wants this case to be concluded quickly.
“I don’t support this delay because the victims have been waiting since 2012 and it’s now 2016,” he said. “They have been waiting for four years.”
Judge Walter also ordered the motion hearing set for October 17.