What is the size and scope of this GMO corn lawsuit against Syngenta?

  • As of April, 2015, more than 7,000 lawsuits relating to the drop in corn prices have been filed against Syngenta
  • Some of the largest law firms in the United States are involved on both sides of the litigation, as well as the firms like ours who together specifically achieved a $750 million settlement from Bayer in the similar GMO rice litigation
  • Syngenta has provided some information to its shareholders in its 2014 annual review, yet the size and scope of the lawsuit has grown considerably since then
  • It is anticipated that before the various corn producing states’ statutes of limitations extinguish untimely claims, more than 100,000 farmers, landlords and grain elevators will have filed timely suit against Syngenta

Cases against Syngenta have been filed in both federal courts and state courts, primarily in the state courts of Minnesota. Both federal and state courts now have systems in placed to allow the general public with access to lawsuits filed in our courts. The system for federal court cases is known as PACER, Public Access to Court Electronic Records. PACER is “an electronic public access service that allows users to obtain case and docket information online from federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts, and the PACER Case Locator. PACER is provided by the Federal Judiciary in keeping with its commitment to providing public access to court information via a centralized service.” (https://www.pacer.gov). Likewise, the Minnesota Judicial Branch “offers an online inquiry tool for statewide electronic case records and calendars, called MPA Remote, which stands for Minnesota Trial Court Public Access Remote view. MPA Remote is a public-view version of the Minnesota Court Information System (MNCIS), the computerized case management system used by Minnesota District Courts to track and manage cases and calendars. MPA Remote contains replicated public case data from MNCIS. Upon inquiry, MPA Remote displays case information for public viewing, including register of actions, calendars, judgments, and orders and notices prepared by the court.” (http://www.mncourts.gov/caserecords). A detailed review in both electronic services reveals that as of April, 2015, more than 7,000 lawsuits relating to the drop in corn prices have been filed against Syngenta.

Some of the largest law firms in the United States are involved on both sides of the litigation. Syngenta is represented by Kirkland & Ellis, a firm with over 1,600 lawyers worldwide, with offices in Beijing, Chicago, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Munich, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Shanghai, and Washington, D.C. Cargill, Inc., which filed the first lawsuit against Syngenta, retained Green Espel in Minneapolis, a firm with a client list including corporations including 3M, Deloitte & Touche LLP, Graco, Honeywell, International, Inc., PricewaterhouseCoopers and Tyson Foods. ADM retained the Sidley Austin firm, a firm with over 1,800 lawyers worldwide, with offices in Beijing, Boston, Brussels, Chicago, Dallas, Geneva, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo and Washington, D.C. Many of the farmers and grain elevators have hired firms who specifically achieved a $750 million settlement from Bayer in the similar GMO Rice litigation. For example, Mikal Watts of Watts Guerra, negotiated for months with Bayer’s settlement counsel, John Galvin, to achieve the first of two nationwide settlement agreements, causing Bayer to pay $750 million to settle thousands of farmers’ claims against Bayer. Other lawyers involved in the GMO Rice case are involved in the GMO Corn cases as well, and those firms are working diligently together to pursue the case against Syngenta.

Syngenta has provided some information to its shareholders concerning the GMO Corn litigation in its 2014 Annual Review, yet the size and scope of the lawsuit has grown considerably since then. Syngenta’s 2014 Annual Review mentions the Viptera Agrisure litigation, but states merely that it “believes that pending lawsuits relating to the marketing of AGRISURE VIPTERA are without merit.” (2014 AR, p. 40). However, Syngenta’s Financial Report for 2014 provides considerably more detail:

Since September 12, 2014, a total of 762 lawsuits (as of January 28, 2015) have been filed against Syngenta in state and federal courts
in the United States by plaintiffs seeking damages from Syngenta
for commercializing its AGRISURE VIPTERA® (MIR162) and DURACADETM corn seed in the U.S. before those products obtained import approval from China. Of the 762 lawsuits, 696 of the lawsuits were filed by individual plaintiffs (growers of non-MIR162 corn and exporters such as Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland), and 66 by putative classes of both growers of non-MIR162 corn and of exporters and others affected. 545 of the lawsuits were originally filed in federal court. Of the 217 lawsuits originally filed in state court, Syngenta has removed or is in the process of removing all of those cases to federal court. Plaintiffs in several of the removed cases have sought remand to state court. Syngenta successfully defeated a motion to remand in two of those cases while other remand motions remain pending. On December 11, 2014, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ordered the consolidation of federal cases in the District of Kansas for coordinated or consolidated pre-trial proceedings under the multi-district litigation process (“MDL”).

This order also applies to cases that were removed from state court to federal court, although those plaintiffs can and will continue to seek remand by arguing in the MDL in Kansas that those cases should be returned to their state courts of origin for jurisdictional reasons. The causes of action referred to in the lawsuits generally include product liability, negligence, tortious interference, public nuisance and trespass to chattels. The allegations includeclaims that Syngenta issued misleading statements concerning the status of or timetable for approval of import of VIPTERA TM corn into China and that the public had a right to expect that corn sold to the general public was free from “contamination” with VIPTERA TM corn. Certain members of management have been named as defendants in one of the lawsuits. The Cargill lawsuit refers to damages of in excess of $90 million and one of the exporter lawsuits specifies damages of $41 million. The cases are at an early stage and no trial date has been set. Syngenta strongly believes that the claims in these cases are without merit..[1]

It is believed that Syngenta’s Form on 10Q for the first quarter of 2015 will provide considerably more detailed information with respect to the onslaught of lawsuits filed against Syngenta since January 1, 2015.

It is anticipated that before the various corn producing states’ statutes of limitations extinguish untimely claims, more than 100,000 farmers, landlords and grain elevators will have timely filed suit against Syngenta.

Written by*:
Mikal C. Watts
WATTS GUERRA, LLP
Four Dominion Drive, Bldg. Three, Suite 100
San Antonio, Texas 78257
[1] Syngenta, 2014 Financial Report, p. 63.
* This information is provided to supply relevant information concerning the GMO corn lawsuit, and should not be received as legal advice. Legal advice is only given to persons or entities with whom Watts Guerra LLP has established an attorney-client relationship. If you have another lawyer in the GMO Corn lawsuit, you should consult with your own attorney, and rely upon his or her advice, rather than the information contained herein.

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