Jury Awards $217.7 Million to Kansas Corn Farmers in First Syngenta Trial

June 23, 2017 | Kristine A. Tidgren

The jury returned a big verdict against Syngenta this morning in the first trial of the massive Syngenta GMO litigation. This case was presented on behalf of a class of more than 7,000 Kansas corn producers, specifically those Kansas producers who priced corn for sale after November 18, 2013, and who did not purchase Viptera or Duracade corn seed. Any Kansas producers who met that definition and did not affirmatively opt out of the class were automatically part of this action.

After a relatively short deliberation, the jury determined that Syngenta was negligent in the timing, scope, and manner in which it commercialized its Viptera and Duracade GMO corn, specifically by selling it before receiving import approval from China. The jury determined that China's rejection of the corn was not a superseding cause of the plaintiffs' damages. The jury assessed $217.7 million in compensatory damages against Syngenta, which was the amount the Kansas class requested. The jury chose not to award punitive damages, finding that Syngenta did not act in a "wanton" manner (with reckless disregard to the probable consequences) toward the producers.

Seven other state class actions remain pending in the Kansas multi-district litigation: Iowa, Arkansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Illinois, Nebraska, and Ohio. The nationwide class claims have been dismissed. Judge Lungstrum suggested in a hearing this morning that the next trial in the Kansas MDL will likely take place in January or February. The plaintiffs are asking to consolidate the seven classes into three trials. Briefing on that issue is underway.

The MDL plaintiffs have not yet sought class certification for state claims filed on behalf of producers from Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. On a different front, a class action filed on behalf of Minnesota corn producers and approximately 60,000 individual claims against Syngenta remain pending in the Fourth Judicial District of Hennepin County, Minnesota. The bellwether trial in that set of state cases is currently scheduled for August.

Syngenta has stated that it will appeal the judgment, a verdict which has just provided great momentum to the thousands of claims pending throughout the country.

Iowa producers who priced corn for sale after November 18, 2013, and who did not purchase Viptera or Duracade corn seed, are automatically part of the Iowa class if they did not affirmatively opt out of the class litigation. It is unknown when those claims will be tried. The result of each bellwether trial will be crucial to considerations of a possible settlement. But Syngenta will likely want to hear what the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has to say about today's verdict before moving forward with any kind of settlement. And appeals can take years. In other words, this litigation will not be over anytime soon. Nor will any checks soon be in the mail for today's prevailing Kansas farmers.

In the meantime, in a somewhat ironic development, a merger between Syngenta AG and state-owned China National Chemical Corp (ChemChina) is virtually complete. The takeover by ChemChina was valued at $43 billion.

Access the jury verdict here.

Access the court judgment here.

For some general background on this case, read this article.

The case is Syngenta AG MIR162 Corn Litigation, 14-md-2591.