Why are most GMO corn lawsuits against Syngenta being filed in Minnesota state courts, rather than in federal courts?

  • Cases against Syngenta may be filed in Minnesota state courts because Syngenta’s U.S. base of operations is in Hennepin County, Minnesota
  • Minnesota trials typically occur faster than in federal court. Trial settings are typically within twelve (12) months in order to conform with case management practices issued by the Minnesota Supreme Court
  • Trial rules in Minnesota are more favorable to the farmers. Minnesota rules concerning pleading requirements, the admissibility of expert testimony and the rules concerning jury composition are different from those federal court
  • Minnesota has consolidation rules, which will lead to the orderly and efficient preparation for trial of these cases against Syngenta. Minnesota is a farming state, and it is believed that both the judges and juries will be very familiar with issues that farmers face on an every day basis

Cases filed in federal courts have been consolidated into a multidistrict litigation (“MDL”) proceeding in Kansas City, Kansas. In total, there have been more than 7,000 lawsuits filed against Syngenta. More than 6,000 have been filed in Minnesota state courts. Why are most lawsuits against Syngenta being filed in Minnesota state courts, rather than in federal courts?

Cases against Syngenta may be filed by farmers and grain elevators from other states in Hennapin County, Minnesota state courts because Syngenta’s U.S. base of operations is in Hennapin County, Minnesota. Additionally, Minnesota farmers may file suit in any county in Minnesota where Syngenta is found, which means such farmers may file suit in the local counties where they farm. The federal removal statute does not permit an entity sued in its own state courts to remove these cases to federal court based on diversity of citizenship. While Syngenta has alleged federal question jurisdiction based on an invocation of the federal common law of foreign relations, a hearing is set for April 27, 2015, where it is expected that this argument will fail. If so, all cases filed in Minnesota state courts will be adjudicated there, instead of in federal courts.

Many litigants prefer Minnesota state courts over federal court because of its courts reputation for the speedy adjudication of civil cases that are filed. Minnesota state court trials typically occur faster than in federal court. Trial settings are typically within twelve (12) months in order to conform to case management practices issued by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Additionally, pleading, trial and jury composition rules in Minnesota are more favorable to the farmers. First, federal courts require that much more specific pleadings of plausible facts be included in a complaint to avoid a motion to dismiss by Syngenta under recent decisions in Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcraft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). By contrast, Minnesota’s Supreme Court has recently rejected this detailed pleading requirement used in federal court, because Minnesota is a notice pleading state. Second, Minnesota state court rules concerning the admissibility of expert testimony are different from federal court, and so are the rules concerning juries. Federal courts follow the factors set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Daubert v. Merrill Dow Corp., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). While the case was actually a victory for the Plaintiffs, subsequent federal court decisions interpreting it have utilized dicta from that case to make federal judges themselves the “gatekeepers” of expert testimony, creating for themselves the role of restricting expert witness testimony, and have thereby created substantive roadblocks against jurors hearing certain expert testimony. By contrast, Minnesota has not yet adopted Daubert and its progeny, and procedurally, Minnesota has much more liberal rules governing the admissibility of expert testimony. Third, rules concerning the make up of juries are different in Minnesota state courts than those of federal courts. Civil cases in Minnesota has heard by petit juries of six jurors, and a jury verdict requires the agreement of only five of six jurors after six hours of deliberation, whereas federal courts typically require unanimous jury verdicts.

It is anticipated that when the federal courts grant Plaintiffs’ motions to remand the cases filed in state court back to the state courts in which they were filed, that most cases will be adjudicated in Minnesota state courts. Minnesota has consolidation rules, which will lead to the orderly and efficient preparation for trial of these cases against Syngenta. Minn..R.Gen.Prac. 113.03 permits the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court to assign all the cases filed against Syngenta to a single judge. This judge will work with the federal MDL judge to prepare these cases against Syngenta for trial. When the cases in Minnesota are tried, they will be tried in the case with the fourth largest corn production in the United States, and by judges and juries with a unique understanding of the issues that farmers face on a daily basis.

Written by*:
Mikal C. Watts
WATTS GUERRA, LLP
Four Dominion Drive, Bldg. Three, Suite 100
San Antonio, Texas 78257
* 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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