In re Syngenta AG Mir 162 Corn Litig.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
PartiesIn re: SYNGENTA AG MIR 162 CORN LITIGATION (Toups/Coffman Plaintiffs' Counsel)[*] In re: SYNGENTA AG MIR 162 CORN LITIGATION (Kansas Common Benefit Firms) In re: SYNGENTA AG MIR 162 CORN LITIGATION (Byrd/Shields Group)[**] In re: SYNGENTA AG MIR 162 CORN LITIGATION (Johnson Becker, PLLC) In re: Syngenta AG MIR162 (Hossley- Embry Group) In re: SYNGENTA AG MIR 162 CORN LITIGATION (Law Office of Craig Eiland, P.C.) In re: SYNGENTA AG MIR 162 CORN LITIGATION (Demerath Group)
Decision Date28 February 2023
Docket Number19-3008,19-3022,19-3079,19-3176,19-3280,19-3032,20-3002,19-3174,19-3175,19-3178

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In re: SYNGENTA AG MIR 162 CORN LITIGATION (Toups/Coffman Plaintiffs' Counsel)[*] In re: SYNGENTA AG MIR 162 CORN LITIGATION (Kansas Common Benefit Firms) In re: SYNGENTA AG MIR 162 CORN LITIGATION (Byrd/Shields Group)[**] In re: SYNGENTA AG MIR 162 CORN LITIGATION (Johnson Becker, PLLC) In re: Syngenta AG MIR162 (Hossley- Embry Group) In re: SYNGENTA AG MIR 162 CORN LITIGATION (Law Office of Craig Eiland, P.C.) In re: SYNGENTA AG MIR 162 CORN LITIGATION (Demerath Group)

Nos. 19-3008, 19-3022, 19-3079, 19-3176, 19-3280, 19-3032, 20-3002, 19-3174, 19-3175, 19-3178

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

February 28, 2023


Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Kansas (D.C. No. 2:14-MD-02591-JWL-JPO)

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Eric Alan Isaacson, Law Office of Eric Alan Isaacson, La Jolla, California (Mitchell A. Toups, Weller, Green Toups & Terrell, LLP, Beaumont, Texas; Richard L. Coffman, The Coffman Law Firm, Beaumont, Texas; D. Allen Hossley, Hossley-Embry, LLP, Dallas, Texas, with him on the briefs), the Toups/Coffman Plaintiffs' Counsel & Hossley-Embry for the Kansas Pool Appellants.

Christina J. Nielsen, Nielsen Law Firm, Woodbridge, Virginia, Jeffrey A. Lamken, Eric R. Nitz, and Caleb Hayes-Deats, MoloLamken LLP, Washington, D.C., William P. Ferranti, The Ferranti Firm LLC, Portland, Oregon, and Thomas J. Wiegand and Matthew J. Fisher, MoloLamken, Chicago, Illinois, for the Minnesota Appellants Watts Guerra, LLP, Paul Byrd Law Firm, PLLC, and Shields Law Group, LLC.

David Campbell, O'Hanlon, Demerath & Castillo, PC, Austin, Texas (Justin B. Demerath, O'Hanlon, Demerath & Castillo, PC, Austin, Texas; A. Craig Eiland, The Law Offices of A. Craig Eiland, PC, Austin, Texas, with him on the briefs), for the Illinois Appellants, and Clayton A. Clark and Scott A. Love, Clark Love Hutson, Houson, Texas, and Martin J. Phipps, Phipps Anderson Deacon LLP, San Antonio, Texas, and Peter J. Flowers, Meyers & Flowers, LLC, St. Charles, Illinois, joined in the supplemental brief for The Clark/Phipps Group.

Timothy J. Becker (Michael K. Johnson with him on the briefs) Johnson Becker, PLLC, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for Appellants.

Bradley T. Wilders, Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP, Kansas City, Missouri, and William Lewis Garrison, Jr., Heninger Garrison Davis, LLC, Birmingham, Alabama (Patrick J. Stueve and Rachel Schwartz, Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP, Kansas City, Missouri; Don M. Downing and Gretchen Garrison, Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., St. Louis, Missouri;

William B. Chaney and Drew York, Gray Reed & McCraw, LLP, Dallas, Texas; Scott

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Powell, Bruce McKee and Tempe Smith, Hare Wynn Newell &Newton, Birmingham, Alabama; the MDL Co-Lead Plaintiffs' Counsel on behalf of Kansas Common Benefit; and Daniel E. Gustafson, Gustafson Gluek PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Lewis A. Remele, Jr., Bassford Remele, A Professional Association, Minneapolis, Minnesota and William R. Sieben, Schwebel Goetz &Sieben PA, Minneapolis, Minnesota the Minnesota Co-Lead Counsel; and Christopher A. Seeger, Stephen A. Weiss, Diogenes P. Kekatos, Seeger Weiss LLP, Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, the Settlement Class Counsel; Christopher B. Hood, Heninger Garrison Davis, LLC, Birmingham, Alabama, the Illinois Mass. Action Lead Counsel, with them on the briefs) for the Joint Appellees.

Before HOLMES, Chief Judge, and BACHARACH and McHUGH, Circuit Judges.

HOLMES, Chief Judge.

These appeals concern attorneys' fees awarded following a historic class action settlement. Numerous plaintiffs from multiple different states-but, mainly, Kansas, Minnesota, and Illinois-sued Syngenta AG ("Syngenta"), an agricultural company. The suits against Syngenta were organized into complex, federal multi-district litigation ("MDL") based in a court in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas ("Kansas district court"). Syngenta ultimately settled with the class action plaintiffs. The Kansas district court allocated approximately $503 million in attorneys' fees and expense awards stemming from the settlement to the myriad firms participating in the class action.

Appellants in this case-the various plaintiffs' lawyers and law firms that took part in the MDL against Syngenta-challenge numerous orders published by the Kansas district court concerning the apportionment and allocation of that $503 million fee pie. Having concluded it possessed significant authority to craft the allocation of attorneys' fees in the most reasonable manner, the Kansas district court had adopted a two-stage, "general approach" of an appointed special master to the allocation of the attorneys' fee

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award-"by which the award is first allocated among the three common benefit pools [i.e., for Kansas, Minnesota, and Illinois] and the IRPA pool [i.e., the pool for individually retained private attorneys]," Joint App., Vol. 23, at 5357 (Kan. D. Ct. Mem. and Order, filed Dec. 31, 2018) ("December 31, 2018, Fee Allocation Order"), and then, second, disbursed to individual firms. Appellees-also lawyers and law firms from Kansas, Minnesota, and Illinois, that acted as co-lead counsel ("CLCs" or "Leadership") and by-and-large, spearheaded the litigation against Syngenta in the three main fora- oppose Appellants' arguments, and they ask us to affirm the Kansas district court's feeallocation orders.[1]

Exercising jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we fully affirm the Kansas district court's post-judgment attorneys' fees orders challenged in these appeals.

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I. Background

A. Summary of the Litigation

The appeals at issue here stem from various lawsuits filed against Syngenta. Syngenta commercialized and released two genetically modified ("GMO") corn seeds under the brand names Agrisure Viptera and Agrisure Duracade before obtaining China's regulatory approval to import such genetically modified seeds. After discovering the Syngenta GMO corn seeds in its American imports, China closed its markets to American corn, depressing corn prices and thereby injuring producers. Beginning in 2014, corn farmers and others in the corn industry filed thousands of lawsuits against Syngenta in several federal and state jurisdictions; these suits took various forms, including class actions, mass tort actions, and individual actions.[2]

In December 2014, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation consolidated hundreds of these suits into an MDL centered in the Kansas district court. A similar process occurred in Minnesota, where thousands of suits were consolidated in a state court ("Minnesota state court"). And finally, similar suits were litigated in a court in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois ("Illinois district court").

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In an order entered on January 22, 2015, the Kansas district court appointed several attorneys as "co-lead counsel" for the Kansas MDL. Joint App., Vol. 21, at 4749 (Kan. Special Master's R&R, filed Nov. 21, 2018) ("November 2018 Fee Allocation R&R") (quoting Joint App., Vol. 2, at 482 (Kan. D. Ct. Order Concerning Appointment of Counsel, filed Jan. 22, 2015)). "The order authorized Kansas MDL Leadership, in their role as co-lead counsel, to 'organize and supervise the efforts of plaintiffs' counsel in a manner to ensure that the pretrial and trial preparation for the plaintiffs is conducted effectively, efficiently, expeditiously, and economically' and 'to encourage full cooperation and efficiency among all plaintiffs' counsel.'" Id. (quoting Joint App., Vol. 2, at 482-83).

On the Minnesota front, firms like Watts Guerra LLP ("Watts Guerra"), along with several others, brought thousands of individual and class action lawsuits in Minnesota state court against Syngenta. The Minnesota state court also appointed certain counsel to a Minnesota Plaintiffs' Executive Committee to ensure "the efficient, coordinated litigation of the Minnesota cases." Id., Vol. 21, at 4752. Attorneys from Watts Guerra and the Paul Byrd Law Firm, PLLC ("Byrd") were among the several appointees. Meanwhile, in Illinois, multiple suits percolated through state and federal court.

Substantive discovery occurred across the primary litigation sites (i.e., Kansas district court, Minnesota state court, and Illinois district court). In September 2016, after an evidentiary hearing, the Kansas district court certified eight state-wide classes to pursue state-law tort and statutory claims. Following a three-week jury trial of these

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state-law claims in June 2017, one of the Kansas classes obtained a $217,700,000 verdict against Syngenta. This was the only completed class trial across the three jurisdictions, although one class trial was started, but not completed, in Minnesota.

Following the Kansas jury verdict, Syngenta expressed renewed interest in pursuing a global settlement of all claims. Settlement negotiations initially began in March 2016-before the state-wide class certifications-and the Kansas district court, along with its Minnesota and Illinois counterparts, appointed Ellen Reisman as the Special Master for Settlement in the Syngenta litigation ("the Kansas Special Master"). Two months after the June 2017 class action trial, the Kansas district court appointed a Plaintiffs' Settlement Negotiating Committee ("PNC") to work toward a settlement with Syngenta. The PNC included representatives of all the major plaintiffs' constituencies. Facing the risk of similar losses in Minnesota and other venues that could collectively total billions of dollars, Syngenta committed to settlement by late 2017.

On February 23, 2018, a class of farmers, certain grain handling facilities and ethanol production facilities, and various Syngenta entities reached a nationwide class action settlement ("the Settlement") that resolved the claims. Syngenta agreed to pay a total of $1.51 billion in exchange for the release of all claims relating to the sale and marketing of its GMO corn products. As well, the agreement was...

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