On May 5th, 2015, United States District Judge, John Lungstrum sent two lawsuits against Syngenta back to the state courts in which they were originally filed. The decision appears to be a major strategic victory for plaintiffs looking to keep their claims in state court and a potential blueprint for others who may want to file a claim in state court.
Syngenta has been under a pile of lawsuits filed in federal and state courts across the country for losses allegedly caused by the the release of Agrisure Viptera trait (otherwise known as MIR162) prior to China’s approval of the trait in imported grain. The federal lawsuits have been combined and moved to a Multi-District Litigation (“MDL”) in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. Syngenta had been attempting to remove most if not all state court claims to the federal MDL claiming the state court suits include questions of federal law and, therefore, fall under federal court jurisdiction.
Strategically, Syngenta wanted to litigate all the cases in federal court for two reasons. First, defending all the cases in one federal forum is easier and more cost effective than appearing in multiple states. Syngenta can file pre-trial motions and discovery requests against all plaintiffs at one time rather than individually in each state court. Second, and most importantly, Syngenta did not want to defend cases in state courts which may be located in the farmers’ back yards.
Removing the state cases to federal court, Syngenta argued the plaintiffs’ claims questioned a foreign government’s impact on a domestic industry and therefore, the federal common law of foreign relations trumped state courts jurisdiction. Throwing a wrench in Syngenta’s strategy, the judge disagreed and found the plaintiffs did not question China’s actions nor did China or the U.S. express interest in the lawsuits. Therefore, the alleged federal question was “not substantial” and the judge remanded the two cases back to the Louisiana state court in which they were originally filed.
The judge admitted his ruling may “result in the remand of many MDL cases to state court” and ordered Syngenta to provide a list of all cases removed from state court under the same theory. A complete copy of the opinion can be found here. Since the original opinion, Judge Lungstrom has remanded more than 1,000 other lawsuits back to state court.
Corn producers thinking about filing a claim against Syngenta should talk with their attorney about how this ruling may affect where their claim is filed and which claims to assert.