By Kathleen Bianco, J.D.
Syngenta AG, a manufacturer of genetically modified (GMO) corn seed, has agreed to pay $1.51 billion to settle a nationwide class action suit filed by U.S. corn growers, grain handling facilities, and ethanol plants. The proposed settlement, which has been submitted to a Kansas federal judge for preliminary approval, applies to class members in all but four of the many multidistrict litigations currently pending, including any U.S. farmers who opted out of previous litigation (In re Syngenta AG MIR162 Corn Litigation, March 12, 2018,).
The mass tort action, which was filed on behalf of corn farmers and other related entities, alleged that Syngenta, the manufacturer of the genetically modified corn trait "MIR162" sold to U.S. farmers under the trade name Agrisure Viptera®, prematurely commercialized MIR162. In doing so, the lawsuit contended, the manufacturer acted negligently, recklessly, and deceptively, causing harm to the corn industry and contaminating the entire United States corn supply. The suit further asserted that at the time of the alleged acts, the manufacturer knew that the early release of the GMO corn trait was a risk to corn growers, sellers, and exporters due to the lack of foreign regulatory approval, thereby breaching the duty owed in preventing the harm alleged.
An amended complaint alleged a number of claims against the manufacturer, including: negligence, trespass to chattels, tortious interference with business actions, and violations of certain state and federal laws. Specific allegations and claims for damages included the premature release of Viptera and Agrisure Duracade™ into the U.S. corn and corn seed supply; the materially misleading statements made relating to approval status of MIR162 in China upon which plaintiffs relied; the failure to disclose the material fact that MIR162 was not approved for import into China; and the continuing and future MIR162 contamination of the U.S. corn and seed supply. The plaintiffs sought monetary damages, both compensatory and punitive, along with attorney fees, pre- and post-judgment interest, court costs, and any other relief deemed appropriate the by court. After nearly four years of hard-fought litigation and several months of intensive negotiating, the parties have executed a settlement agreement that has been submitted to the court for preliminary approval.
Terms of the proposed settlement. If approved, the settlement agreement would apply to all corn growers, grain handling facilities, and ethanol plants across the country, who opt out of the settlement, including any U.S. farmers who opted out of previous litigation. For purposes of the settlement agreement, the "Settlement Class" is defined an: "Any Person in the United States that during the Class Period owned any Interest in Corn in the United States priced for sale during the Class Period and falls into one of the four sub-classes." The Class Period runs from September 15, 2013 through the date of preliminary approval. Class members who do not opt out will release Syngenta from claims co-extensive with the legal and factual claims that were or could have been made against them. Claims for bodily harm related to Agrisure Viptera or Duracade are not released. All class members must submit a claim form to receive settlement funds.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the costs of settlement administration will be deducted from the settlement fund. Moreover, no more than $22,600,000 of the settlement fund may be disbursed to members of Subclass 2; no more than $29,900,000 to Subclass 3; no more than $19,500,000 to Subclass 4; with the remaining funds to be available for Subclass 1 claimants. Class members with interests in multiple subclasses can recover for each interest, provided there is not duplicative recovery.
Upon preliminary approval, settlement terms and claims process information, including instructions to opt-out or contest settlement terms, will be mailed to class members and published in various media outlets across the country, as well as in a settlement website. According to a press release announcing the settlement agreement, if the settlement is ultimately approved, funds could be available for distribution to class members in the first half of 2019.
The case is No. 2:14-md-02591-JWL-JPO.
Attorneys: Claude M. Stern (Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP) for Louis Dreyfus Co. Grains Merchandising, LLC. Bridget K. O'Connor (Kirkland & Ellis LLP) for Syngenta AG and Syngenta Crop Protection AG.
Companies: Louis Dreyfus Co. Grains Merchandising, LLC; Syngenta AG; Syngenta Crop Protection AG
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