Syngenta Lawsuits Survive Motion to Dismiss
Originally published by Michigan Farm News on November 25, 2015; republished with permission.
Thousands of lawsuits filed against Syngenta in federal district court by farmers, exporters, and grain elevators will continue forward following a recent ruling denying Syngenta's motion to dismiss. By way of background, in 2010, Syngenta released GMO seed before it was approved by some export markets, most notably China.
That GMO corn later found its way into the general corn supply and was loaded on barges headed for China. China ultimately rejected the GMO corn, but because it was comingled with approved varieties, all US corn exports to China were halted. Some farmers, as well as major corn processors - including ADM and Cargill - allege that the embargo caused a collapse in the market price of corn.
In December 2014, many of the individual lawsuits were consolidated into multi-district litigation (MDL) in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. In addition to these individual claims, law firms have also filed class action complaints that are pending in the MDL.
One of the class action complaints purports to represent a class of corn farmers who did not plant Syngenta GM corn, and another class action complaint seeks to certify a national class of exporters, processors, and elevators. Syngenta filed motions to dismiss the federal court complaints in June 2015.
While some of the secondary claims were dismissed, the court rejected Syngenta's two main arguments that it had no duty to protect the farmers and other agribusinesses and that the claims for damages for negligence or private nuisance were barred by the economic loss doctrine. Given the court's ruling, the MDL cases will now proceed to discovery, and likely trial.
In addition, now that the cases are past the motion to dismiss, another key issue in the coming months will be the court's decision as to whether to certify one or more of the proposed class action lawsuits. If the class action complaints are certified, individual claimants, including farmers, will automatically be part of a class action unless they "opt out."
As class members, individual parties will not be required to file their own lawsuits. On the other hand, if the court rejects class certification, claimants will be required to file their own complaints if they wish to pursue a claim. Discovery in the MDL litigation will continue in the meantime, and it is anticipated that thousands of additional claims will be filed against Syngenta in the coming months.