In re Syngenta AG Mir 162 Corn Litig. Classes Certified By the Court, MDL No. 2591, Case No. 14-md-2591-JWL.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Kansas
Citation249 F.Supp.3d 1224
Docket NumberMDL No. 2591, Case No. 14-md-2591-JWL.
Parties IN RE: SYNGENTA AG MIR 162 CORN LITIGATION This Document Relates to: The Nationwide and Kansas Classes Certified by the Court
Decision Date05 April 2017

249 F.Supp.3d 1224


This Document Relates to:

The Nationwide and Kansas Classes Certified by the Court

MDL No. 2591, Case No. 14-md-2591-JWL.

United States District Court, D. Kansas.

Signed April 5, 2017

249 F.Supp.3d 1228


John W. Lungstrum, United States District Judge

In this multi-district litigation (MDL), plaintiffs assert various claims against defendants (collectively "Syngenta") relating to Syngenta's commercialization of corn seed products known as Viptera and Duracade, containing a genetic trait known as MIR 162, without approval of MIR 162 corn by China, an export market. Plaintiffs, who did not use Syngenta's products, allege that Syngenta's commercialization of its products caused corn containing MIR 162 to be commingled throughout the corn supply in the United States; that China rejected imports of all corn from the United States because of the presence of MIR 162; that such rejection caused corn prices to drop in the United States; and that plaintiffs were harmed by that market effect. Plaintiffs assert claims under the federal Lanham Act and various state-law claims. By prior order, the Court certified a nationwide Lanham Act class and state-wide classes for claims under the law of Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and South Dakota. See In re Syngenta AG MIR 162 Corn Litig. , 2016 WL 5371856 (D. Kan. Sept. 26, 2016). The Court has first set for trial the claims of the Lanham Act class and the Kansas state class (which asserts only a claim of negligence), and the Court has entered a pretrial order to govern that trial. By prior order, the Court ruled that these summary judgment motions would cover only issues relevant to those claims.

This matter presently come before the Court on Syngenta's motion for summary judgment on various claims (Doc. # 2860) and plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on various defenses (Doc. # 2858). For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in part and denies in part both motions. The Court grants Syngenta's motion with respect to all claims under the Lanham Act. The Court also grants Syngenta's motion with respect to any claim of negligence in which liability is based on any alleged misrepresentation, a voluntary undertaking, a failure to warn, or a duty to recall. The Court grants plaintiffs' motion with respect to Syngenta's defenses of intervening cause (as applied to Cargill and ADM and as applied to some acts of China), assumption of the risk, mitigation, business and economic justification, antitrust preemption, and comparative fault. The parties' motions are otherwise denied.1

249 F.Supp.3d 1229

I. Summary Judgment Standards

Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party demonstrates that there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact" and that it is "entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In applying this standard, the court views the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Burke v. Utah Transit Auth. & Local 382 , 462 F.3d 1253, 1258 (10th Cir. 2006). An issue of fact is "genuine" if "the evidence allows a reasonable jury to resolve the issue either way." Haynes v. Level 3 Communications, LLC , 456 F.3d 1215, 1219 (10th Cir. 2006). A fact is "material" when "it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim." Id.

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating an absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Thom v. Bristol–Myers Squibb Co. , 353 F.3d 848, 851 (10th Cir. 2003) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322–23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) ). In attempting to meet that standard, a movant that does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial need not negate the other party's claim; rather, the movant need simply point out to the court a lack of evidence for the other party on an essential element of that party's claim. Id. (citing Celotex , 477 U.S. at 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548 ).

If the movant carries this initial burden, the nonmovant may not simply rest upon the pleadings but must "bring forward specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial as to those dispositive matters for which he or she carries the burden of proof." Garrison v. Gambro , Inc., 428 F.3d 933, 935 (10th Cir. 2005). To accomplish this, sufficient evidence pertinent to the material issue "must be identified by reference to an affidavit, a deposition transcript, or a specific exhibit incorporated therein." Diaz v. Paul J. Kennedy Law Firm , 289 F.3d 671, 675 (10th Cir. 2002).

Finally, the court notes that summary judgment is not a "disfavored procedural shortcut;" rather, it is an important procedure "designed to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action." Celotex , 477 U.S. at 327, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 1).

II. Lanham Act Claims

Plaintiffs have asserted claims under the false advertising provision of the federal Lanham Act, which provides for liability of one who makes false or misleading representations in commercial advertising or promotion. See 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)(1)(B). Plaintiffs' Lanham Act claims are now based solely on representations by Syngenta employee Chuck Lee in an August 17, 2011, letter to all Syngenta purchasers (the "Grower Letter").2 In particular, plaintiffs rely on the statement from the Grower Letter that Syngenta expected import approval from China for Viptera in late March 2012.3

249 F.Supp.3d 1230

Syngenta argues as a matter of law that plaintiffs cannot prove causation as required for this claim. Although plaintiffs do not explicitly dispute that causation must be shown, they suggest that the Tenth Circuit has not expressly required causation in listing the elements of this claim. It is clear, however, that plaintiffs must prove that their injuries were caused by the alleged misrepresentations. The statute itself provides for a claim by a person "damaged by such act" of deception, see id. (emphasis added), and the Supreme Court has held that a plaintiff asserting a claim under this statute must prove injury proximately caused by the misrepresentation, see Lexmark Int'l, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc. , ––– U.S. ––––, 134 S.Ct. 1377, 1395, 188 L.Ed.2d 392 (2014). See also University of Texas Southwestern Med. Ctr. v. Nassar , ––– U.S. ––––, 133 S.Ct. 2517, 2524–25, 186 L.Ed.2d 503 (2013) (causation in fact is a standard requirement of any tort claim, including certain federal statutory claims). Moreover, the Tenth Circuit, in listing the required elements, has referred to false or misleading representations "that are ... likely to cause confusion ... and injure the plaintiff," and causation is thus required because the representation must injure the plaintiff. See Sally Beauty Co. v. Beautyco, Inc. , 304 F.3d 964, 980 (10th Cir. 2002) (quoting Cottrell, Ltd. v. Biotrol Int'l, Inc. , 191 F.3d 1248, 1252 (10th Cir. 1999) ); cf. Hutchinson v. Pfeil , 211 F.3d 515, 522 (10th Cir. 2000) (presumption of causation arises only "when the defendant has explicitly compared its product to the plaintiff's or the plaintiff is an obvious competitor with respect to the misrepresented product").

Plaintiffs do not take issue with Syngenta's premise that, in order to prove causation in fact here, plaintiff must show both that farmers read and were influenced by the Grower Letter and that the impact of the letter was great enough to cause the embargo that allegedly caused the price drop in this country. In arguing that plaintiffs cannot produce such evidence, Syngenta notes that of the more than 100 farmers deposed in this MDL and the related Minnesota litigation, only one testified that he had seen the Grower Letter, and none testified that he purchased Viptera or Duracade because of that letter. Syngenta further notes that plaintiffs did not conduct any relevant survey of farmers. Nor have plaintiffs offered any expert opinion that sales attributable to the Grower Letter were such that plaintiffs' injuries would not have occurred otherwise. In their cursory response to this argument, plaintiffs cite only evidence that the Grower Letter was intended by Syngenta to provide assurance to potential purchasers of Viptera and that sales of the product did increase from 2011 to 2012. Plaintiffs have provided no evidence, however, that the increased sales may be traced to the Grower Letter (let alone to the particular statements in that document at issue here). Plaintiffs also argue, without citation to evidence, that the Grower Letter "prolonged and increased the risk of a trade disruption with China." Plaintiffs have not provided any evidence, however, that their injuries would not have occurred but for increased sales traced to the letter.

Plaintiffs have not addressed at all Syngenta's argument based on the fact that, by the time of the Grower Letter in August 2011, Syngenta had been selling Viptera for many months and planting for the

249 F.Supp.3d 1231

2011 season had been completed. Thus, under plaintiffs' own theory of liability here (under which contamination of the entire corn supply...

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