Friday, March 27, 2015 - Early estimates concerning the prospective length of an MDL filed against Syngenta by American farmers from various rungs of the grain industry are predicting lengthy litigation ahead for plaintiffs. The case focuses on Syngenta‘s Viptera MIR 162 strain of corn, which was procured and dispersed to American farmers before it had received approval in China. The ensuing denial of exported American corn by China beginning in November of 2013 racked up billions of dollars in losses within the American corn market.
Roughly 360 lawsuits from American farmers affected by the Chinese rebuttal of Viptera corn have been filed in the MDL against Syngenta, with more than 1,500 total pending in state and federal courts around the country. Litigation has just begun within the MDL and lawyers from the plaintiff‘s side claim that a foreseeable end date will take about 18 months to discern. For farmers effected by issues with Syngenta‘s corn product, seeing a resolution to their complaints is likely to take a handful of years.
The closest parallel to the Syngenta Viptera corn MDL comes from a past case in which Bayer AG eventually settled for $750 million with more than 11,000 class members after five years of litigation. Plaintiffs in the Bayer case claimed that the market value of rice farm from Bayer seeds plummeted following genetic modifications made to the crop.
In the Syngenta MDL, plaintiffs claim the barring of American corn products that included any of the Syngenta Viptera strain by the Chinese cost farmers anywhere from 11 cents to $2 a bushel. During the embargo China instead chose to import corn from Argentina, Brazil and the Ukraine instead of relying on their historically strong ties with corn producers from Midwestern American farms. In total the losses totaled nearly $3 billion across the grain industry before the ban was lifted in December 2014.
Some plaintiffs involved in the multidistrict litigation have attempted to remand their cases from the MDL back into state court, where they feel their grievances and possible resolutions could progress quicker. In Minneapolis, commercial farmers have requested their cases be heard in a state court instead of at the federal level where the MDL is taking place. The plaintiffs claim China exists solely on the periphery of the lawsuit, whereas Syngenta has argued that China‘s role in the allegations warrants a federal level trial to fulfill the investigative clout needed to look into the country‘s possible culpability.
Plaintiffs around the country have claimed that they would rather have their grievances heard under state law, and are unhappy that Syngenta‘s bid for multidistrict litigation has brought about a federal presence in the proceedings. The gap between the plaintiffs and the defense regarding the nature of the jurisdiction could likely result in the litigation lasting even longer than already expected.
Specific complaints made by the plaintiffs in the MDL include conversations that took place within Syngenta that more or less framed the dispersal of the Viptera corn as a high-risk maneuver, hoping that Chinese approval would come before the corn was exported. Plaintiffs claim that this reckless behavior was exhibited by Syngenta in hopes of generating immediate profits at the expense of the possibility that farmers would be harmed by a possible export refusal.