Farm Progress

Legal Issues: Jury rules in favor of Kansas farmers in first trial; more trials are pending in other states.

4 Min Read
VERDICT: A jury has awarded $217 million in damages to a group of Kansas farmers in the first trial alleging Syngenta caused five years of depressed corn prices.

Previously, we’ve discussed the class action lawsuit involving Syngenta and Iowa farmers’ participation in that lawsuit. A class action lawsuit, often referred to as multi-district litigation, is a suit in which a group of people with similar alleged injuries caused by a product or action of another sue a defendant or defendants as a group to recover their alleged losses.

Many Iowa corn farmers joined as plaintiffs in the Syngenta suit and in June jurors awarded roughly 7,300 Kansas corn farmers in the amount of $217.7 million, regarding their claim for economic damages against Syngenta. The jury awarded compensatory damages, not punitive damages the plaintiffs were seeking against the company — meaning the jury was not willing to “punish” the company beyond awarding the plaintiffs compensable damages.

Plaintiffs in the suit are claiming damages sustained due to China’s rejection in 2013 of U.S. corn for containing the Agrisure Viptera trait that was approved in the United States, but not yet approved in China. The plaintiffs argue that the company’s marketing of the genetically modified corn seed caused contamination of the U.S. crop and a rejection of export sales by Chinese officials, and thus, five years of depressed corn prices. The company has argued that the claims are without merit.

Iowa trial date set for May
After the Kansas verdict, Syngenta issued a statement regarding the jury verdict and expressed disappointment that the verdict would “only serve to deny American farmers access to future technologies, even when they are fully approved in the U.S.” Syngenta has appealed the verdict and must post a $272 million bond to delay the payment of damages during the pending multi-district class action litigation filed in several states. Of course, many Iowa farmers are still involved in this lawsuit.

Additional trials have been scheduled in the multi-district litigation by the courts. The Iowa and South Dakota class claims are to be tried together on May 14. Trials in Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio are also set for 2018.

Many legal experts have weighed in on the Kansas verdict and its impact on upcoming litigation in other states. Some experts conclude that the plaintiffs’ win in Kansas provides a great deal of momentum for other plaintiffs involved in upcoming trials. Since the Kansas jury verdict, Syngenta reached a confidential settlement agreement with an individual Nebraska farmer on July 10. The next trial is set for August in Minnesota, where farmers are seeking more than $600 million in damages. 

Other class action ag lawsuits
Class action lawsuits are nothing new in the ag industry. Many companies have faced them, and this Viptera case isn’t the only major legal issue involving ag companies. Effective July 7, glyphosate (active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup) was added to California’s list of known human carcinogens in response to studies linking Roundup to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Cancer patients in California have brought suit against Monsanto, claiming the company failed to warn consumers about cancer risks. Monsanto has denied the claims and asserts there is no proof that glyphosate is carcinogenic.

The company is also dealing with class action lawsuits in the area of dicamba drift damage. Farmers in 10 states, including Missouri, have filed a class action lawsuit in federal court alleging the company marketed Xtend cotton and soybean seeds without any safe herbicide knowing that the herbicide dicamba would be illegally sprayed to protect the crops from weeds. Missouri recently banned the spraying of dicamba because of drift issues.

This “Legal Issues” column is current as of July 12. We will provide updates as they become available on this and other class action lawsuits affecting agriculture.

Looking forward
In past columns, we addressed the Waters of the U.S. Rule to update readers on recent activity in that area of the law. At the end of June, the U.S. EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced their plan to repeal WOTUS and re-enter or “re-codify” the pre-2015 definition of WOTUS that existed in the federal regulations. However, now the agencies plan to begin work on developing and proposing a “new definition” of WOTUS. The agencies’ plan includes a “re-evaluation” of the rule, which would most likely be consistent with President Donald Trump’s directive to the agencies to incorporate Justice Anthony Scalia’s suggested definition of “navigable waters” into any rulemaking.

We will keep you updated on new developments as the agencies work to issue a new rule. Remember, the rulemaking process would include a comment period before new rules can go into effect.

Herbold-Swalwell is an attorney with Brick-Gentry PC in Des Moines. Contact her at [email protected].


About the Author(s)

Erin Herbold-Swalwell

Erin Herbold-Swalwell is an attorney with Wickham & Geadelmann PLLC.

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