- Each state has its own statute of limitations, setting forth deadlines to file suit within a certain time after the Plaintiff knew or should have known he or she has a claim.
- It is unknown at this time what the trigger date is for the statute of limitations to begin to run.
- If the suit is not filed by the time the statute of limitations runs, the lawsuit may not be brought at all.
There are arguments that may be made that the statute of limitations has been tolled.
Twenty states produce almost ninety-nine percent (99%) of the corn grown in the United States. In order of corn productivity, those states are Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, Kansas, South Dakota, Ohio, Wisconsin, Missouri, Texas, North Dakota, Colorado, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina and Tennessee. Certain states are known for their one-year statutes of limitations – like Louisiana, Tennessee and Kentucky; others are known for their traditional two-year statutes of limitations – like Iowa, Illinois and Texas. Wisconsin and Colorado are known for their traditional three-year statute of limitations, while Nebraska has a four-year statute of limitations. Minnesota has a six-year statute of limitations, but with respect to cases filed there by farmers from out-of-state, is likely to “borrow” the statute of limitations from the farmers’ respective home states. Different states have different statutes of limitations, and plaintiffs should consult with knowledgeable attorneys in each such state to ascertain what the statute of limitations requires. Collectively, the result is that when the applicable period expires, so does the cause of action against Syngenta.
Even more concerning is that it is unknown at this time what the trigger date is for the statute of limitations to begin to run. Ultimately, Syngenta will seek to eliminate lawsuits by filing motions for summary judgment based on the statute of limitations. It makes perfect sense that Syngenta will contend that the plaintiff knew or should have known of his or her claim at the earliest possible moment in time. For example, the price began to drop in June, 2013 from $7.00/bushel to $4.25/bushel. Thus, Syngenta may claim that farmers knew or should have known of their claim as early as June, 2013. While farmers’ counsel will certainly contest this, the risk is present that a judge may agree with Syngenta. Likewise, many farmers learned of China turning away U.S. shipments of corn as early as November, 2013, since widespread press articles chronicled this action; thus, the statute of limitations may have begun to run on that date.
Adding more complexity to the issue is that different jurisdictions have different rules concerning when the statute of limitations begins to run. For example, Texas applies a two-year statute of limitations to products liability actions based upon causes of action brought under negligence or strict liability. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.003. However, the limitations period does not commence until the particular claim “accrues.” See id. While a claim generally “accrues” at the time of injury, Texas’ discovery rule provides an exception to the general rule of accrual. Burns v. Thomas, 786 S.W.2d 266, 267 (Tex. 1990); Gaddis v. Smith, 417 S.W.2d 577 (Tex. 1967). Under the discovery rule, a cause of action “accrues” and the limitations period commences when the plaintiff “discovers or, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have discovered the facts establishing a cause of action.” Burns, 786 S.W.2d at 267. The discovery rule tolls the limitations period “until the plaintiff learns or reasonably should have learned of the negligent cause.” Woodruff v. A.H. Robins Co., 742 F.2d 228, 230 (5th Cir. 1984) (emphasis added) (applying Texas law). In other words, the limitations period does not commence in Texas until the plaintiff knows or should know: (1) that she has been injured; (2) a product caused her injury; and (3) her injury resulted from a “negligent cause.” See id.; see also S.V. v. R.V., 933 S.W.2d 1, 8 (Tex. 1996) (explaining that there must be evidence of wrong and an injury to warrant application of the discovery rule). Furthermore, different jurisdictions have rules concerning when the running of the statute of limitations may be interrupted or tolled. For example, when class actions are filed, the statute of limitations may be tolled until class certification issues are resolved under American Pipe & Constr. Co. v. Utah, 414 U.S. 538 (1974).
In any event, the important lesson here is that if the suit is not filed by the time the statute of limitations runs, the lawsuit may not be brought at all. Farmers and lawyers representing them in suits against Syngenta must be especially diligent to ensure claims are timely filed in the courts.
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.