Centralization of Syngenta GMO Corn Lawsuits to be Considered by MDL Panel

A panel of federal judges is scheduled to hear oral arguments next month about whether all Syngenta GMO corn seed lawsuits should be centralized before one judge, consolidating claims brought by farmers and others in the corn industry that allege the genetically modified seed has caused sharp drops in the price of U.S. corn.

Syngenta faces a growing number of lawsuits over sales of Agisure Viptera and Agisure Duracade corn seed, which is a genetically modified organism (GMO) that features a trait known as MIR162.

According to the complaints, Syngenta misled farmers about the GMO corn by marketing the product without ensuring that crops with the trait could be exported to China, which is the third largest importer of U.S. corn.

Since November 2013, China has rejected corn with any trace of MIR162. As a result of co-mingling of corn grown by different farmers and cross-pollination caused by Syngenta’s instructions to grow Agisure Viptera GMO seed next to other corn, most of the U.S. corn supply is now unable to be exported to China.

Plaintiffs claim that the negligent and reckless marketing of Syngenta CMO corn seed may cause the farm industry to suffer damages between $1 billion and $2.9 billion.

As the number of complaints filed in U.S. District Courts throughout the country by farmers, landowners, transporters, exporters and others in the industry continues to mount, a motion was filed that seeks to centralize the GMO corn lawsuits as part of a federal MDL, or Multidistrict Litigation.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is scheduled to hear oral arguments on December 4 over whether all of the cases should be transferred to one judge for coordinated handling during pretrial proceedings, which may reduce duplicative discovery into common issues, avoid conflicting rulings from different courts and serve the convenience of the parties, witnesses and the courts.

Location of MDL for Syngenta GMO Corn Lawsuits in Dispute

While responses filed by Syngenta and many plaintiffs involved in the litigation support centralizing the cases, the parties disagree about the most appropriate venue for the MDL proceedings.

The original motion to transfer (PDF) the litigation was filed by a group of plaintiffs last month, when there were at least nine Syngenta GMO corn class action lawsuits and one non-class action pending in nine different federal district courts.

“Syngenta’s commercialization of MIR162 without approval from all key export markets, including China, and Syngenta’s promotion of commingling-enhancing growing practices, combined with China’s zero-tolerance policy toward unapproved genetic traits and China’s subsequent rejection of several U.S. corn shipments due to detection of trace amounts of MIR162 since November 2013, has resulted in serious trade disruptions, lower prices for U.S. commodity corn, and increased costs for U.S. elevator operators and exportes,” plaintiffs’ attorneys said in their motion to transfer. “Put simply, Syngenta’s common actions with respect to MIR162, while profitable for Syngenta, have caused and continue to cause widespread damage to a large number of stakeholders in the U.S. corn marketing system, many of whom have recently filed lawsuits in different courts around the country seeking to hold Syngenta accountable for its wrongful acts.”

Plaintiffs have proposed centralizing the Syngenta GMO corn litigation in Illinois, indicating that it is the second-largest corn producing state in the country and that it is the home to the Chicago Board of Trade, where commodity corn is traded. In addition, plaintiffs maintain that Chicago is a major metropolitan area that is easily accessible and centrally located for those involved in lawsuits pending throughout the country.

In a response (PDF) filed by Syngenta, the manufacturer argues that the District of Minnesota is a more appropriate transfer venue, since it is home to the company’s headquarters and at least three of the pending lawsuits have been filed in that state.


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