Lawyer says make choice on Syngenta case soon
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
(Oct. 10, 2017) As terms of the settlement in the class action lawsuit between corn farmers and Syngenta are being prepared, a Delaware attorney involved in the case last week said it’s decision time for corn farmers who have not yet signed on as plaintiffs.
John Tarburton, a Seaford, Del.-based attorney acting as referral council for growers in Delaware and Maryland, said he is telling growers a release of the terms that includes a deadline for farmers to participate could come at any time, and if they’re at all interested in participating, they should contact their attorney or him as soon as possible.
It’s possible, once terms are presented to the courts, the deadline could exclude farmers who are not already signed on as plaintiffs, he said.
“I try not to give them any false hope,” Tarburton said last week. “I think there will be more time but there’s no way to know.”
Initial reports of the settlement said Syngenta would establish a fund of $1.4 billion to pay claims by farmers and others who contracted to price corn or corn byproducts after Sept. 14, 2013. The lawsuit stems from Syngenta selling Viptera-traited corn hybrids to U.S. farmers for the 2011 growing season with U.S. government approval. But China didn’t approve it until December 2014.
The dispute escalated into lawsuits on behalf of tens of thousands of farmers in state and federal courts alleging that Syngenta’s move wrecked China as an increasingly important export market for U.S. corn and resulted in price drops that hurt all producers.
Syngenta contended that larger market forces, not China’s rejection of Viptera, drove corn prices down, and that China wasn’t a big corn importer when it launched Viptera. The company also said China should not have effective veto power over the varieties U.S. farmers choose to plant.
The Sept. 26 settlement comes three months after Syngenta lost a $218 million jury verdict to a class of Kansas farmers, in the first trial over the corn-contamination claims. Several other trials were pending as lawyers pursued suits on behalf of hundreds of thousands of corn growers claiming as much as $13 billion in losses.
The first step for growers, Tarburton said is to request an initial retainer agreement that would detail their corn acreage for the 2013-16 growing seasons. Attorney fees for the lawsuit are included as part of the settlement, Tarburton said; there is no fee to join the lawsuit.
“This is not a wild goose chase anymore. There would be something for them if they got to participate,” he said. “It’s a case where if you do nothing, you get nothing. If you do something, you might get something.”
He said they did not have to grow Syngenta’s Viptera corn in those years or any Syngenta corn to participate.
“The market tanked for all corn growers, not just those that grew Syngenta corn,” Tarburton said.
After the retainer agreement is sent to lead council in the case stationed in Beaumont, Texas, a six-page “welcome packet” will be sent to the grower for more detailed information, going back to 2010.
Tarburton said farmers will also need their acreage reports, Form 578, from the Farm Service Agency, to join the lawsuit, and they should call their county FSA offices for the forms as soon as they decide to join because depending on the number of farmers participating in the county, the office could be deluged with requests, causing delays in getting the forms, Tarburton said. Tarbuton can be reached at 302-628-5499.
Easton, MD 21601-8925