Class Action News

Syngenta GMO Corn Class Members Can’t Sue Their Attorneys

March 4, 2019, 6:45 PM

Farmers who will collect from the $1.5 billion settlement resolving claims Syngenta AG‘s marketing of genetically modified corn seeds shut them out of the Chinese market can’t sue their attorneys, a federal court said March 1.

The farmers weren’t injured when their firm, Watts Guerra LLP, excluded them from the Syngenta class action, Judge John W. Lungstrum wrote for the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.

The farmers were included in the eventual settlement class and therefore will recover as much as other class members, the court said.

And they won’t have to pay their attorneys twice because the firm will receive attorneys’ fees only from the $503 million pot set aside from the settlement for fees, the court said.

Six sets of corn growers formerly represented in the Syngenta case by Watts Guerra and associated counsel brought this spin-off class action alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and other laws on behalf of 60,000 farmers who signed retainer agreements with the firms.

They alleged the firms pursued individual lawsuits while failing to tell their clients about the benefits of participating in the class action, in order to maximize their attorneys’ fees.

But the court found the farmers weren’t actually injured by the firms’ management of their cases and therefore lack standing to bring this class action. It dismissed the case entirely.

Douglas J. Nill in Minneapolis represented the farmers.

Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons LLP represented Watts Guerra.

The case is In re Syngenta AG MIR 162 Corn Litig. (Kellogg v. Watts Guerra, LLP), 2019 BL 70333, D. Kan., No. 14-md-2591, 3/1/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Perry Cooper in Washington at pcooper@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

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