Moment of the week – Syngenta Looks To Speed Appeal Of $218M GMO Corn Verdict

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Syngenta urged a Kansas federal judge to certify as a final judgment the $218 million jury verdict won by a class of Kansas farmers in multidistrict litigation over the agricultural company’s promotion of genetically modified corn, arguing it’s necessary to prevent needless delay of its appeal.

In June the Kansas class, comprised of roughly 7,000 farmers, became the first of the state classes in the consolidated litigation to head to trial, and on June 23 a Kansas federal jury awarded the class $218 million on its negligence claims.

In motion for entry of final judgment and supporting memorandum, Syngenta AG urged U.S. District Judge John W. Lungstrum to certify that verdict as a final judgment, arguing that while it believes the verdict is appealable anyways, it recognizes that the plaintiffs are planning to dispute the finality of the verdict.

Syngenta argued that the verdict meets the standard for certification as a final judgment, even though it is part of the larger multidistrict litigation, which encompasses several other state classes, because the Kansas class’ claims are completely separate from the other claims still pending in the litigation.

“Nothing in the trials of the remaining state classes can possibly affect the outcome of the Kansas trial of the Kansas negligence claim brought by the Kansas class in any way,” Syngenta argued. “This is not a situation in which the claims remaining before the court involve ‘interrelated legal claims’ with those of the Kansas Class or ‘alternative theories for recovery’ by the same plaintiff that ‘should be litigated together and appealed together.”

Syngenta argued that the judge’s certification is needed to prevent a disputed judgment that could delay the company’s appeal and “divert attention from the merits of the issues” before the Tenth Circuit.

The producers allege that Syngenta rushed the genetically modified pest-resistant Viptera seed to market in 2010, willfully ignoring the importance of Chinese regulatory approval. Because varieties of harvested corn are mixed together indiscriminately on their export journey, China’s discovery of the rogue strain in November 2013 and immediate rejection of U.S. corn cargos shut down the Chinese market to U.S. corn, costing the domestic industry more than $1 billion, the producers have alleged.

In September 2016, Judge Lungstrum certified a nationwide class of corn producers who priced any corn for sale after Nov. 18, 2013, and brought claims under the Lanham Act — excluding those who bought Syngenta GMO seed strains Viptera and Duracade — as well as statewide classes from Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota. The judge later granted Syngenta summary judgment on the nationwide class’ claims.

In June a Kansas federal jury sided with the Kansas class and awarded $217.7 million in compensatory damages, and a month later Judge Lungstrum partially granted the producers’ request to consolidate the state class actions for trial, ruling that the seven remaining state class actions should be grouped into four trials.

Attorneys for the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The producers are represented by Scott Powell of Hare Wynn Newell & Newton, William Chaney of Gray Reed & McGraw LLP, Don Downing of Gray Ritter & Graham PC and Patrick Stueve of Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP.

Syngenta is represented by Michael D. Jones, Edwin John U, Patrick F. Philbin, Bridget K. O’Connor, Ragan Naresh and Patrick Haney of Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Thomas P. Schult, Jennifer B. Wieland and Carson M. Hinderks of Berkowitz Oliver LLP. The case is In Re Syngenta AG MIR162 Corn Litigation, case number 2:14 -md-02591, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.

Source : Law360

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