- In the GMO Rice litigation, court decisions created precedent concerning many legal issues; these rulings will be utilized in the GMO Corn lawsuit against Syngenta
- Most importantly, Judge Catherine Perry ruled that the proposed class action was inappropriate; and that, instead, individual farmers should be free to pursue their own cases
- Judge Perry determined that the class action requirements of typicality and superiority were not proven, and rejected the efforts of class action lawyers to handle the cases, instead of the lawyers hired by the farmers themselves
- As a result, Bayer faced thousands of individual lawsuits from rice farmers. After the farmers won six test trials in a row, Bayer settled the GMO Rice lawsuits for $750 million
The GMO Rice lawsuit filed against Bayer Crop Sciences involved many similar issues to those involved here with corn farmers’ claims against Syngenta. Thus, the court rulings in the GMO Rice provide important precedent for this case. Most importantly, United States District Judge Perry ruled that the proposed class action was inappropriate; and that, instead, individual farmers should be free to pursue their own cases with their own chosen lawyers.
In rejecting the motion for class certification, Judge Perry wrote:
The twenty-one lead plaintiffs in this multi-district litigation have filed a motion to certify their claims as a class action under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3). Plaintiffs, the majority of whom are U.S. long grain rice producers, allege that the defendants contaminated the U.S. rice supply with non-approved genetically modified strains of rice, thereby affecting the market price for plaintiffs’ crops. Defendants oppose class certification, arguing that the common issues presented in plaintiffs’ cases do not predominate over individual disputes concerning plaintiffs’ claimed damages. I conclude that this case is inappropriate for class certification because plaintiffs’ varying claims for damages are not amenable to class-wide adjudication.
Plaintiffs seek to have all five classes and ten sub-classes certified under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(b)(3). Plaintiffs argue that Bayer’s liability and culpable conduct can be demonstrated through common proof.
For reasons set forth below, I conclude that the predominance and superiority requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) bar class certification.
Calculation of actual damage is an individual issue specific to each plaintiff in this case, involving a unique inquiry into the time, place, and manner in which each plaintiff both priced and sold his rice…. Although the CBOT provided a national index that reflected the fluctuating change in price based on supply and demand, it was not a uniform “price tag” that set the price of the commodity for every seller. Therefore, a drop in the CBOT did not represent a class-wide injury that can be readily calculated for each plaintiff. The issue of plaintiffs’ damages is not common to the class.
The claims of the rice producers in this case do not lend themselves to an easy “mathematical or formulaic calculation.” An accurate, true assessment of any plaintiff’s damages requires an extensive inquiry involving the circumstances of that particular plaintiff. This case is therefore like those cases where class certification was denied because individual damages issues predominated over common elements. The alleged contamination of the U.S. long grain rice supply affected a vast number of rice producers. But this fact alone does not mean that class certification is appropriate.
The “Market Loss Subclass” proposed by plaintiffs is not appropriate for class certification because individual questions about damages would predominate over common issues. The plaintiffs’ proposed “Other Losses” subclass is even less amenable to class-wide adjudication. This proposed subclass is simply a catch-all class for any plaintiff who claims any kind of injury related to genetically modified rice contamination.
Many producers sold different lots of rice using different pricing methods, so for these producers the process is multiplied even further. Plaintiffs have not proposed a simple, uniform method for calculating any of this. The claims process would devolve into an endless series of “mini-trials” that would fail to meet the goals of class certification.
Individual circumstances affecting the calculation of individual plaintiffs’ damages predominate over the common issues presented in plaintiffs’ claims. Although plaintiffs propose a number of classes, subclasses, and issues-classes for trying common elements of this litigation, I am not persuaded that any of these approaches represents a superior method for resolving issues raised in the consolidated master complaint. For these reasons, I will deny plaintiffs’ motion for class certification.
Judge Perry thus determined that the class action requirements of typicality and superiority were not proven, and rejected the efforts of class action lawyers to handle the cases, instead of the lawyers hired by the farmers themselves.
As a result, Bayer faced thousands of individual lawsuits from rice farmers. After the farmers won six test trials in a row, Bayer settled the GMO Rice lawsuits for $750 million.
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.