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Syngenta, Chevron Support Centralizing Lawsuits Over Paraquat and Parkinson’s Disease

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In response to a recent motion seeking to consolidate all federal Paraquat lawsuits filed throughout the federal court system by individuals who developed Parkinson’s disease after exposure to the controversial herbicide, Syngenta and Chevron indicate that they support centralizing the growing litigation, but disagree about the most appropriate venue.

Paraquat is weed and grass killer manufactured and sold by the companies since 1962, which is widely used on a number of farms throughout the U.S.

Although it has been banned in several countries, the herbicide remains available in the United States under restrictions that require users to go through a special training and certification process on the safe handling of Paraquat, since ingesting even a small amount can quickly result in death.

Over the past few months, at least 62 lawsuits have been filed against Syngenta and Chevron that allege information was withheld from consumers for decades about the link between Paraquat and Parkinson’s disease, which studies have found may develop after routine exposure while spraying, mixing or otherwise coming into contact with the herbicide, even when all safety precautions are followed.

To help coordinate and manage the growing litigation, some plaintiffs have asked the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to centralize cases filed throughout the federal court system before one U.S. District Judge in the Northern District of California, to help reduce duplicative discovery into common issues in the claims, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings from different courts and serve the convenience of common parties, witnesses and the judicial system.

On April 29, Syngenta and Chevron each filed responses indicating that they do not oppose centralizing pretrial proceedings, but argue that the Northern District of California is not a suitable forum for the litigaiton.

“Foremost, only one of the sixty-seven plaintiffs in the sixty-two Related Actions resides in the State of California, much less the Northern District, and that plaintiff filed in the District of Minnesota,” Syngenta’s response (PDF) states. “Plaintiffs in the Related Actions are represented by dozens of different law firms, and none of them operates in California either.”

Both manufacturers propose that the cases should be centralized in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, which is where the earliest-filed cases were brought and where a number of documents and witnesses are located. However, Chevron has also indicated that the District of Minnesota and Northern District of Texas also present reasonable alternative venues.

“The District of Minnesota, currently home to nine Related Actions, and the Northern District of Texas, the home district of Plaintiffs’ counsel in 23 Related Actions, offer strong alternatives to the Eastern District of Missour,” according to the response (PDF) filed by Chevron. “Both have historically handled MDLs. And both are in the central time zone, offering convenience for the geographically-dispersed parties, which span from California to Europe.”

The U.S. JPML is scheduled to consider oral arguments on the motion and various responses filed by interested parties during a hearing scheduled for May 27, at the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building in Washington, D.C. However, attendees will present their arguments via videoconference or teleconference due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

If a Paraquat MDL is established, cases filed in U.S. District Courts nationwide will be transferred to one court for management, and series of early “bellwether” trials designed to help gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence that will be repeated throughout the litigation. However, if Parkinson’s settlements or another resolution for is not reached following the MDL proceedings, each individual Paraquat case may later be returned to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for a separate trial in the future.

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