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Date: 09-25-2023

Case Style:

Odette Blanco De Fernandez, et al. v. Crowley Maritime Corporation, et al.

Case Number: 1:21-cv-20443

Judge: Darrin P. Gayles

Court: United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida (Miami-Dade County)

Plaintiff's Attorney:

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Defendant's Attorney: Geoffrey R. Garinther, Joyce Adriana Delgado, Justin B. Nemeroff, and Katherine Wright Morrone

Description: Miami, Florida civil litigation lawyers represented the Plaintiffs who sued the Defendants on Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 violation theories.

This action is one of several that United States nationals, including Plaintiff Odette Blanco de Fernanez nee Blanco Rosell (“Plaintiff”), have filed following the activation of Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996, 22 U.S.C. § 6021, et seq. (the “Act”) on May 2, 2019. In each of these actions, the plaintiffs seek compensation under the Act from defendants who have profited from using property in Cuba that plaintiffs owned before the Cuban revolution.

According to the Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff, along with her siblings (collectively the “Blanco Rosell Siblings”),[2] owned Maritima Mariel SA, a Cuban corporation established in 1954. [ECF No. 50 ¶ 88]. In 1955, the Cuban Government granted to Maritima Mariel a 70-year concession to develop docks, warehouses, and port facilities in Mariel Bay, Cuba (the “Concession”). Id. ¶ 89. The Concession also granted Maritima Mariel a series of “exceptional” rights in Mariel Bay including the right to occupy and use the land and waters to execute projects, the right of mandatory expropriation, the right to impose easements, and the right to evict tenants. Id. ¶ 90. The Blanco Rosell Siblings also owned several other companies, including Compania Azucarera Merial S.A. (“Azucarera Merial”), and approximately 11,000 acres of land around Mariel Bay. On September 29, 1960, the Cuban government confiscated the Blanco Rosell Siblings' property and rights, including Maritima Mariel, the Concession, Central San Ramon, and Azucarera Mariel (the “Confiscated Property”). Id. ¶¶ 96-97. Plaintiff was not a United States citizen when the Cuban government seized the Confiscated Property. Id. ¶ 5. Plaintiff fled Cuba and, on September 8, 1971, became a naturalized United States citizen. Id. ¶ 9.

The Cuban government eventually incorporated the Confiscated Property into the Zona Especial de Desarollo Mariel (“ZEDM”), a special economic zone in Mariel Bay, without the authorization of the Blanco Rosell Siblings. Id. ¶ 32, 104-105. In 2009, the Cuban government and non-Cuban corporate partners rebuilt the Port of Mariel and constructed the Terminal de Contendores del Mariel (the “Container Terminal”) in the ZEDM.

Defendants Crowley Holdings, Inc., Crowley Maritime Corporation, Crowley Liner Services, Inc., Crowley Latin America Services, LLC, and Crowley Logistics, Inc. (collectively the “Defendants”) are in the business of transporting freight between the United States and foreign ports, including the Port of Mariel in Mariel Bay. [ECF No. 50]. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants trafficked in the Confiscated Property in violation of the Act.
De Fernandez v. Crowley Holdings, Inc., 21-cv-20443-GAYLES/TORRES (S.D. Fla. Mar 27, 2023)

"The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996, also known as the Helms-Burton Act, is a United States federal law that strengthens and continues the United States embargo against Cuba. It was enacted on March 12, 1996, and is named after its original sponsors, Senator Jesse Helms and Representative Dan Burton.

The Helms-Burton Act has four main components:

Title I: Strengthens the embargo by prohibiting foreign companies from trading with Cuba using property that was confiscated from U.S. citizens after the Cuban Revolution.
Title II: Creates a private right of action for U.S. citizens to sue foreign companies that are "trafficking" in confiscated property.
Title III: Authorizes the President to provide assistance to Cuban dissidents.
Title IV: Codifies into law the President's authority to impose sanctions on foreign companies that invest in Cuba's oil and gas industry.

The Helms-Burton Act has been controversial since its inception. Critics argue that it is a violation of international law and that it harms the Cuban people. Supporters argue that it is necessary to pressure the Cuban government to democratize.

The Helms-Burton Act has been suspended by every U.S. President since its enactment. However, the Trump administration partially activated Title III of the Act in 2019, allowing U.S. citizens to sue foreign companies that are "trafficking" in confiscated property.

The Helms-Burton Act is a complex and controversial law. It is important to note that the law is still in effect, even though it has been suspended by the President. If you have any questions about the Helms-Burton Act, you should consult with an attorney."

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Outcome: Defendant's motion for summary judgement was denied.

PAPERLESS ORDER closing this case for administrative purposes pending the duration of the stay. The parties shall jointly move to reopen this action following a ruling by the Eleventh Circuit. Signed by Judge Darrin P. Gayles (hs01) (Entered: 09/25/2023)

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