Class action vs. mass action – what is the difference for my GMO corn lawsuit against Syngenta?

  • Class Actions May be Initiated by an Out-of-State Lawyer Having Only One Client (or Only Just a Few), who will file Suit on Behalf of Every Corn Farmer in the State – Even Though That Lawyer will Never Ask You Whether You Want to be Represented
  • Class Action Lawyers May Settle Your Case Without Your Written Permission; Instead, They Need Merely to Give Written Public Notice on Three Occasions
  • Some Past Class Actions Have Been Criticized When Lawyers Receive Millions of Dollars in Fees, While the “Clients” Receive Only Coupons
  • Based on Precedent in the GMO Rice case, if the class action is not certified, thousands of individual farmers with their own lawyers will then be free to pursue their claims against Syngenta

The basic difference between class action cases and mass action cases is that the rules are different. Class actions may be initiated by an out-of-state lawyer having only one client (or only just a few), who will file suit on behalf of every corn farmer in the state – even though that lawyer will never even ask you whether you want to be represented. Instead, a class action lawyer need only have his or her case certified as a class action.

Once certified, the class counsel may negotiate a settlement with the Defendant, and may do so without your written permission. Instead, they need merely to give written public notice as ordered by the Court, usually on three occasions. As the joke goes, this class notice is often placed on page D-27 of the paper – in between the funeral announcements and the funny pages where no one is looking – with print so small that if class members don’t have their magnifying glass with them, they will never know that they need to object in order to stop the settlement.

Some past class actions have been criticized when lawyers receive millions of dollars in fees, while the “clients” receive only coupons. Stories are legion of class members, who had no real idea previously that a lawsuit had been filed on their behalf, opening their mail to find a letter informing them that “their case had settled,” and that if they fill out a form, they are eligible to recover $3.38 cents, or mere pocket change. Fine print in the notice also points out that the lawyers will be paid millions of dollars. In the past, coupons have been offered for future purchases from the Defendant that both sides know will never be redeemed; nevertheless, these coupons have served as the basis for the “value” of the settlement, upon which huge attorneys’ fees are calculated. Of course, the obvious critical critique of this situation is that the financial interests of the attorney have deviated from those of his class clients. As such, some have argued that allowing the individual plaintiffs to pursue their claims with lawyers they have chosen themselves, and agreed to compensate based on a contingency fee – where the lawyer gets paid only a percentage of the actual dollars recovered by the plaintiff – is the superior way to go.

In the GMO Rice case, the judge denied class certification, permitting individual farmers to proceed forward with their own chosen lawyers. Based on precedent in the GMO Rice case, if the class action is not certified, thousands of individual farmers with their own lawyers will then be free to pursue their claims against Syngenta. This result achieved a vastly superior financial recovery in the GMO Rice case than those achieved in previous agricultural class action cases.

In the GMO Corn case, fine lawyers have filed class actions against Syngenta; however, farmers maintain the very important right to choose their own lawyers, and be represented by the lawyer or lawyers they have chosen themselves.

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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