Trial dates have been set in 7 additional states on class-action lawsuits filed against Syngenta over the release of Viptera corn to China, according to an order issued by a judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas in Kansas City, Kansas.
A Kansas jury on June 26 awarded farmers $217.7 million in compensatory damages in the first of several class-action lawsuits filed against Syngenta.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge John Lungstrom announced in an order the court’s rationale for scheduling the next set of trials two states at a time.
The court set a trial date of Jan. 22, 2018, for negligence and tortious interference claims made by farmers in Arkansas and Missouri. Motions in the case are due by Sept. 22, 2017.
The trial of farmer negligence and statutory consumer protection claims made in Illinois and Nebraska is set for April 4, 2018, with motions due on Jan. 5, 2018.
The Iowa and South Dakota negligence claims are scheduled for trial on May 14, 2018, with motions due by Feb. 26, 2018.
Negligence claims made by farmers in the Ohio class are set for trial Oct. 8, 2018, with motions due May 28, 2018.
Plaintiffs in the cases allege Syngenta sold corn with Agrisure Viptera and Duracade traits prior to the traits receiving import approvals in several countries, including China. China claims it found and rejected corn shipments containing the traits, which plaintiffs say led to lower corn prices.
According to the order, Syngenta had argued for seven individual trials so as to “obtain more data points” that would be used in seeking a global settlement of claims asserted against Syngenta.
“Even if some classes’ claims are combined for trial, the parties will still have a number of verdicts (the Kansas class trial, at least one trial in Minnesota, and multiple additional class trials in this court) that may be used by the parties in considering a global settlement,” the court ruled.
“There is no question that efficiency would best be served by combining classes’ claims for trial in some manner. The class claims are asserted against the same defendants, they involve common questions of law and fact, and as the Kansas class trial recently demonstrated, the evidence particular to the state of residence is relatively limited.”
The jury in the Kansas case took less than a day to render a verdict.
Donald L. Swanson, an attorney with Koley Jessen in Omaha who follows the Syngenta cases, told DTN it is likely Syngenta will appeal the Kansas case, which could take a couple of years to complete. Syngenta said as much after the $217.7 million verdict was announced.
The Kansas lawsuit was filed by four farmers who represent more than 7,000 farmers in the state. It was the first of multiple lawsuits claiming Syngenta should have inspected and prevented harvested Viptera (MIR 162) corn from being shipped to China in 2013 and 2014.
A second case scheduled for trial on July 10 in Minnesota state court has been settled, according to Paul Minehart, head of corporate communications-North America for Syngenta. According to Bloomberg, the company settled with Nebraska farmer Daniel Mensik, who brought the first lawsuit in the state court against Syngenta. The 300-acre farmer had claimed the Viptera release caused him about $125,000 in damages. The terms of the settlement were not made public.
“Syngenta has agreed to settle a Viptera case that involved a single individual and was set to go to trial in Minneapolis, Minnesota,” the company said in a statement to DTN.
“The resolution allows the company to focus on another upcoming trial scheduled to begin in August, and does not represent a change in strategy for the company. Syngenta will continue to defend the litigation and the rights of farmers to have access to safe and effective U.S. seed technologies.”
A second case involving about 60,000 farmers is slated to begin in Minnesota state court in August.
Also, at the end of June, the Common Pleas Court in Seneca County, Ohio, dismissed a Viptera lawsuit filed against Syngenta on behalf of Poet’s Fostoria Ethanol plant in Fostoria, Ohio.
The official lawsuits filed on behalf of corn producers include cases in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
All farmers in the United States who priced corn for sale after Nov. 18, 2013, were approved last fall as a major class in the ongoing lawsuit.
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN