Watts Guerra Faces Trial Over Alleged Contract With Marketer

Oct. 22, 2021, 4:16 PM

Prominent plaintiffs’ lawyer Mikal Watts, a Minnesota attorney, and their two law firms must proceed toward trial on claims that they failed to pay a marketer more than $3 million for publicizing seed litigation to farmers under an oral contract, a federal court in South Dakota ruled.

Punitive damages are also on the table for now, Judge Charles B. Kornmann said Thursday for the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota.

Farmers in the underlying mass tort litigation alleged they lost income on their corn crops. They said Syngenta AG and its Minnesota-based subsidiary hadn’t gotten approval from the Chinese government to sell corn grown from the genetically modified seed the U.S. farmers were using. Prices allegedly dropped as a result.

Watts and his firm, Watts Guerra LLP, headed up the litigation and enlisted co-counsel in numerous states, including Daniel M. Homolka, according to the court.

Tens of thousands of Syngenta cases in federal multidistrict proceedings, in federal court in Illinois, and in state court in Minnesota ultimately settled for $1.5 billion, according to the court.

Here, Lowell Lundstrom Jr.—a farmer with marketing experience—alleges an attorney involved in the litigation contacted him about publicizing the suit to farmers who might want to participate. He allegedly met with Homolka, two other lawyers, and another person.

During that meeting and later negotiations, Homolka allegedly agreed to pay him $10,000 per month through the end of the litigation, a $3.4 million bonus, and reimbursement for a new vehicle needed for the marketing work. They allegedly didn’t provide a written contract on the basis that they couldn’t share legal fees with a non-lawyer.

Lundstrom sued Homolka, his firm Daniel M. Homolka PA, Watts, and Watts Guerra. They sought summary judgment in their favor.

But genuine factual issues remain for a jury on the existence of an oral contract and whether Watts and his firm are bound by it under South Dakota law, Kornmann said.

Fraudulent misrepresentation and civil conspiracy claims may also proceed, he said. And punitive damages may be available because Lundstrom “alleges that defendants fraudulently represented that they could not enter into a written contract” for his services, he said.

Cutler Law Firm LLP represents Lundstrom.

Siegel, Barnett & Schutz LLP represents Homolka and his firm. Boyce Law Firm LLP represents Watts and his firm.

The case is Lundstrom v. Daniel M. Homolka PA, 2021 BL 405567, D.S.D., No. 1:19-cv-01006, 10/21/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martina Barash in Washington at mbarash@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com

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