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Class Plaintiffs Obtain Final Approval of $1.51 Billion Settlement with Syngenta

Today, U.S. District Judge John W. Lungstrum granted final approval to the $1.51 billion nationwide class action settlement between Syngenta AG and various of its affiliates and Plaintiffs representing 650,000 corn producers, grain handlers, and ethanol plants over the agricultural giant’s aggressive commercialization of Agrisure Viptera and Agrisure Duracade GMO seeds.  It is the largest agricultural litigation settlement in U.S. history.

Seeger Weiss partner Chris Seeger served as a member of the court-appointed Plaintiffs’ Settlement Negotiation Committee, which operated on behalf of plaintiffs in several federal and state jurisdictions and negotiated the settlement.  Partner Stephen Weiss served as a member of the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee, and partner Dion Kekatos was centrally involved throughout the multidistrict litigation (MDL) and in hammering out settlement paperwork and in settlement briefing.

Marking an end to the hard-fought, four-year litigation, Judge Lungstrum noted in his opinion approving the settlement that the litigation had been “hotly contested,” that plaintiffs’ claims were “thoroughly vetted through litigation,” that the settlement yielded “excellent results” for class members, and that “class members have reacted … overwhelmingly in favor of the settlement.”

The landmark settlement was initially reached in September 2017, when a term sheet was signed, and its details and extensive paperwork completed in February 2018, following several more months of delicate, mediator-assisted negotiations.  It was submitted for the court’s initial review in March 2018, which granted it preliminary approval in April 2018.  The settlement followed the first bellwether trial in the MDL, which had resulted in a verdict awarding $217.7 million in damages to a certified class of Kansas corn farmers in June 2017.

Thousands of suits were filed against Syngenta in the aftermath of China’s 2013 embargo of U.S. corn, which sent U.S. corn prices tumbling by 20% and corn futures plummeting by 15%, costing the domestic U.S. industry more than $1 billion.  At the time, China was the largest overseas customer for American corn.  Chinese authorities rejected U.S. corn after detecting the presence of Agrisure Viptera, the commercialization of which by Syngenta commenced before receiving Chinese import approval.  Syngenta’s introduction of the seed resulted in its widespread infiltration into the U.S. corn supply and ultimately to China’s embargo.

The case is In re Syngenta AG MIR162 Corn Litigation, MDL No. 2591 (D. Kan.)

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