Lawyers recruiting farmers to join lawsuit

“Mass action” seeks billions for corn growers

By Jim Nowlan
[email protected]

Four of the sharpest young lawyers I have met in a long time came through Stark County this past week.

They are on a quest to sign up corn growers for a suit that seeks what may be billions from agri-business giant Syngenta for alleged misrepresentation of its hybrid seeds, which the lawyers contend caused a resultant drop in corn prices in 2013-15 from around $7 a bushel to the $3 range.

I met with the lawyers at One Eleven Coffee in Wyoming, a popular place for meetings.
Attorney Brittany Deane and her identical twin and attorney Briana led the discussion.
According to Brittany, Syngenta misrepresented to corn growers that they had approval from China to sell a new GMO hybrid seed in that country but indeed did not have that nation’s okay.

As a possible result, China rejected all corn grown in the U.S. for a period of time, even though this special new hybrid represented only about 3 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. in the years in question.

Other nations were willing to buy the corn that might have gone to China, but at a significantly reduced price, because they had the leverage of knowing China was out of the market.

Brittany estimates that in 2013 alone, corn growers may have lost almost $3 billion as a result of Syngenta’s actions.

The News has a call in to Syngenta, for its side of the case, but has not heard back as of deadline.

50,000 corn growers signed up

Many law firms are involved in this large “mass action” case (similar to a class action lawsuit). Thus far 50,000 corn growers have signed contracts with the firms to be part of the plaintiff group.

A farmer need not have grown Syngenta corn to be part of the group. Any corn grower is an equal participant in the case, based on his acreage planted and bushelage produced.

The more farmers signed up, the greater the possible settlement. The law firms take 40 percent (and are responsible for all costs) and 60 percent goes to the farmers.
The suit seeks to assess economic loss damages on a per bushel basis.

Attorney Briana Deane estimates the suit could conceivably recover as much as $1 per bushel down to 10 cents a bushel or, of course, nothing.

The law firms are fronting all the costs of the suit. If nothing is recovered from Syngenta, plaintiff farmers are out nothing, and there is no cost to join the suit.

Huge money at stake in case

Extrapolating from the briefing provided by the attorneys, the money involved is really, really big. Nothing like the 25 cents a reader might have received from a class action suit for owning a few shares of a cereal maker that, hypothetically, sold you old cereal.

To illustrate, think of the 50,000 farmers already signed up growing 1,000 acres of corn for each of three years times 200 bushels per acre.

That would be 3 billion bushels of corn! If the lawsuit recovered $1 a bushel (not likely, I don’t think), that would be $3 billion, with 60 percent to farmers, or $1.8 billion.

Even if only 10 cents per bushel were recovered, farmers would receive $180 million, or 6 cents per bushel for each of three years.

And of course, if they won big, the law firms would be in Fat City forever. Law firm costs up front are large, of course, with no promise of any recovery. They are rolling the dice, you might say.

For Syngenta, it’s probably “chump change.”

Suit faces 12 “test cases”

According to Rico Reyes, a Texas farm boy with a Harvard degree and services as a lawyer for the U.S. Marine Corps, a federal judge in Minnesota is supervising the case.

In 2017 or earlier, the federal judge will oversee 12 test courtroom cases in different U. S. courtrooms across the Midwest.

These cases will apparently provide the supervising judge a guide to whether juries in the various cases are finding Syngenta guilty or not, and of what size the juries think the damages, if any, should be.

A corn grower interested in joining the thousands already signed up might contact Jeff Link at [email protected] The website is

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