On May 11 2020, the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted Amazon.com, Inc.’s motion to dismiss the amended complaint of plaintiff Daniel Gonzalez, ending a lawsuit brought under Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act. In his claim, the plaintiff, a US citizen, filed a claim for treble damages under Helms –Burton while accusing Amazon and co-defendant Susshi International Inc. d/b/a Fogo Charcoal of selling products obtained from his seized property in Cuba.
According to the order, the plaintiff’s grandfather purchased agricultural property in 1941 that the Cuban government confiscated in 1959. The property passed to the plaintiff’s father, a US citizen, and then to his mother who transferred the property to the plaintiff in 2016. Shortly thereafter, in January of 2017, Amazon and Susshi began selling charcoal that was allegedly produced on the plaintiff’s land. In July of 2019, plaintiff sent a cease and desist letter to Amazon asking them to stop “trafficking” the property, and eventually filed the Helms-Burton suit in September of 2019.
The plaintiff’s first complaint was dismissed by the court because he failed to prove that he had an actionable ownership interest in the Cuban property that dated back to 1996 when the Helms-Burton Act was passed, and because he failed to show that Amazon knowingly and intentionally trafficked in the property. However, after amending the complaint to show that he inherited a valid property interest in 2016, the court again held that plaintiff failed to prove that his ownership interest existed prior to 1996. In its order, the court pointed out that the statute explicitly states that US nationals cannot bring actions under Helms-Burton “unless such national” acquired an interest in the property before 1996, emphasizing that plaintiff personally was required to hold a property interest in order to obtain remedies under the statute. The court also reasoned that its holding was consistent with the purpose of the Act, which was to prevent individuals from transferring their ownership interest in confiscated property to US citizens after 1996.
Ultimately the court held that the plaintiff failed to state claim to which relief could be granted; and because the failure occurred on two occasions, it granted defendants’ motion to dismiss with prejudice. The court also determined that the plaintiff’s failure was dispositive, and therefore, refused to consider whether the defendants knowingly and intentionally trafficked the property.