Syngenta Corn Seed Lawsuits Centralized in Federal MDL

With a growing number of lawsuits being filed throughout the federal court system over problems with Syngenta genetically modified (GMO) corn seeds, a panel of federal judges has decided to centralize all cases before one judge as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.

Following a hearing session last week, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) issued a transfer order (PDF) on December 11, indicating that nine lawsuits filed in eight different districts will be assigned to U.S. District Judge John W. Lungstrum for coordinated pretrial proceedings.

In addition, as lawyers continue to file Syngenta corn seed lawsuits in the coming months and years on behalf of farmers and others in the corn industry, they will also be transferred to the Judge Lungstrum in the MDL.

All of the complaints raise similar allegations that Syngenta mislead farmers about their Agisure Viptera and Agisure Duracade corn seed, which both contain a genetically modified trait known as MIR162.

Syngenta allegedly sold the corn seed to farmers throughout the U.S. without ensuring that crops with the trait could be exported to China, which is the third largest importer of U.S. corn. As a result of marketing efforts that promoted the planting of Syngenta GMO corn seed next to other crops, there has been substantial cross-pollination on many farms. In addition, due to the co-mingling of corn grown at various different farms, much of the U.S. corn supply is now barred from import into China.

Plaintiffs claim that Syngenta’s negligent and reckless marketing of the GMO corn seed may cause farmers and others in the farm industry to suffer damages between $1 billion and $2.9 billion.

“All actions involve common factual questions regarding Syngenta’s decision to commercialize the MIR162 genetically modifie corn trait in the absense of Chinese approval to import corn with that trait,” wrote the U.S. JPML in the transfer order issued Thursday. “As with past litigation involving allegedly improper dissemination of genetically modified crops, centralization will eliminate duplicative discovery; avoid inconsistent pretrial rulings, particularly on class certification; and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary.”

A group of plaintiffs filed the original request to consolidate the Syngenta corn seed litigation in October, asking the U.S. JPML to centralize the cases in Illinois, which is the second-largest corn producing state in the country and home of the Chicago Board of Trade, where commodity corn is traded.

While Syngenta did not oppose establishing a corn seed MDL, the manufacturer proposed that the cases be centralized in the District of Minnesota, which is where the company’s headquarters are based.

Although the U.S. JPML acknowledged that the cases could be centralized in any number of suggested districts, they indicated that the District of Kansas was an appropriate transferee district because there are already several cases pending there and Judge Lungstrum is “well-versed in the nuances of complex, multidistrict litigation.”

Following the coordinated pretrial proceedings, if Syngenta corn seed settlements are not reached to resolve the litigation, individual cases may be remanded back to the U.S. District Courts where they were originally filed for separate trials across the country.


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