Why is Syngenta arguing that GMO corn lawsuits filed in state courts should instead be in federal court?

  • The Vast Majority of the Cases Filed Thus Far Have Been Filed in the State Courts of Minnesota
  • Syngenta Has Removed These Cases To Federal Court, Arguing that the Federal Common Law of Foreign Relations Creates Federal Question Jurisdiction
  • Plaintiffs Have Moved the Court to Remand these Cases Back to State Court, Arguing that Syngenta Is Attempting to Wildly Stretch the Common Law of Foreign Relations in a Way Never Before Done by Any Court
  • The Federal MDL Judge, Hon. John W. Lungstrum, United States District Judge for the District of Kansas, Will Conduct a Hearing in Kansas City on April 27, 2014 to Decide This Issue

Lawsuits for over 5,500 farmers and grain elevators have been filed against Syngenta in the state courts of Minnesota. This is an appropriate jurisdiction and venue because Syngenta’s U.S. operations are based there. Because Syngenta has been sued in its own state, Syngenta may not remove the case to federal court based on diversity of citizenship.

Syngenta has removed these cases, and others filed by Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland Company (“ADM”) in Louisiana state courts, to federal court, by arguing instead that the federal common law of foreign relations creates federal question jurisdiction. Inside its Notices of Removal, Syngenta contends that “[r]emoval is proper because plaintiffs’ claims necessarily raise a substantial federal issue, which is actually disputed, concerning the federal common law of foreign relations.” Syngenta further argues that because “[f]ederal common law includes ‘interstate and international disputes implicating the conflicting rights of States or our relations with foreign nations,’” “courts have concluded that even when a plaintiff asserts purely state-law claims, federal question jurisdiction exists if the resolution of such claims ‘necessarily require determinations that will directly and significantly affect American foreign relations.” Syngenta reasons that Plaintiffs’ cases require the courts to adjudicate the legality of China’s actions, and that Plaintiffs allege damages “because their corn shipments were rejected by Chinese authorities.” Finally, Syngenta concludes that Plaintiffs’ petition “thus necessarily implicates China’s sovereign right to regulate the importation of genetically modified crops within its borders, because there is no way to resolve the elements of plaintiffs’ claims without determining the role played by the Chinese government itself.”

Plaintiffs have moved the Court to remand these cases back to state courts, arguing that Syngenta is attempting to wildly stretch the common law of foreign relations in a way never before done by any court. Specifically, Plaintiffs have argued that “under the well-pleaded complaint rule, Syngenta’s attempt to raise the lawfulness of China’s actions cannot support federal jurisdiction.” Further, Plaintiffs contend that “no federal issue is ‘necessarily raised’ because Plaintiffs need not show – and a court need not decide – the lawfulness of China’s actions for Plaintiffs to establish the elements of their negligence claims.” Specifically, Plaintiffs argue that “Plaintiffs’ pleaded claims that their harms were foreseeable do not require the Court to decide the lawfulness of China’s actions” and that “the law does not require Plaintiffs to make a threshold showing – nor a court to make a threshold determination – as to whether China’s actions were lawful or unlawful.” Next, Plaintiffs argue that “even if a court were required to decide whether China’s actions were lawful, jurisdiction does not lie under the federal common law of foreign relations” because “the federal common law of foreign relations does not literally govern ‘all questions’ related, however incidentally, to an ‘Act of State,’ and no court has ever held that it does” and because “Syngenta’s policy arguments are insufficient and illogical.” Finally, Plaintiffs conclude that “the alleged inquiry into whether China acted lawfully with respect to MIR 162 corn does not present a ‘substantial’ federal issue.”

The federal MDL Judge, Hon. John W. Lungstrum, United States District Judge for the District of Kansas, will conduct a hearing in Kansas City on April 27, 2014 to decide this issue.

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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