US Corn Farmers Settlement

US Corn Farmers Settlement - $1.51 Billion Syngenta Corn Class Action Settlement

On December 7, 2018, the settlement of the nationwide class action lawsuit against Syngenta related to its marketing and commercialization of Agrisure Viptera and Agrisure Duracade corn seeds was approved. Plaintiffs alleged that Syngenta commercialized the genetically modified seed before obtaining regulatory approvals in foreign countries, including China, a major importer of U.S. corn. When the genetically modified seed was found in U.S. corn, China effectively banned import of U.S. corn, affecting over 600,000 corn producers, grain handlers and ethanol plants across the country.

Discovery included millions of pages of documents and hundreds of depositions taken domestically and in multiple countries around the world. After dispositive motions in their favor, plaintiffs co-lead counsel succeeded in obtaining class certification of a nationwide class of corn producers to assert federal Lanham Act claims and eight state-wide classes of producers to assert multiple state-law claims.

The first class-wide bellwether trial for Kansas farmers resulted in a $217.7 million verdict. Settlement followed that verdict after arduous negotiations. The $1.51 billion settlement is the largest agricultural settlement in U.S. history. Payment to farmers began in March 2020.

Gray Ritter Graham attorney Don Downing was one of four co-lead plaintiffs’ counsel leading the litigation. Other Gray Ritter attorneys representing the plaintiffs were: Gretchen Garrison, responsible for the master complaint and one of two leaders of the briefing team which defeated efforts to dismiss claims, secured key summary judgment rulings in favor of plaintiffs, overcame pre-and post-trial motions to defeat the bellwether verdict, secured settlement approval and successfully defended it on appeal; Kaitlin Bridges, and Jack Downing were members of the document review/coding team; Kaitlin served as second chair to Don at multiple executive and expert depositions and also at trial in presenting and cross-examining economic experts.

The Judge recognized the case as involving “very novel and difficult questions of law and fact,” being the first to involve a GMO product approved for sale in the U.S. and “unprecedented” liability for commercialization ahead of foreign import approval. Syngenta raised defenses involving complicated issues that, among other things, implicated international law, politics and economics. The Judge found that “the work performed by plaintiffs' counsel was consistently excellent, as evidenced at least in part by plaintiffs' significant victories with respect to dispositive motion practice, class certification, and trial.”

Don was interviewed by Brownfield Ag News radio to answer questions regarding the settlement. That interview can be heard here.

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