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In re Syngenta AG MIR 162 Corn Litigation

United States District Court, D. Kansas

May 5, 2015

IN RE: SYNGENTA AG MIR 162 CORN LITIGATION.
v.
Syngenta Seeds, Inc., No. 15-2018-JWL This Document Relates To: Cargill Inc., et al. Archer Daniels Midland Co.
v.
Syngenta Corp., et al., No. 15-2240-JWL Fornea-5, LLC
v.
Syngenta AG, et al., No. 15-2017-JWL W. Edgar Wilman 2000 Trust, et al.
v.
Syngenta Corp., et al., No. 15-2012-JWL

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

JOHN W. LUNGSTRUM, District Judge.

In this multi-district litigation ("MDL"), various plaintiffs assert claims against various entities related to Swiss company Syngenta AG (collectively "Syngenta"). Prior to their transfer to this Court, many of the cases were removed to federal court by Syngenta from the state courts in which they were originally filed. Although in some cases (for instance, when the parties were diverse or when federal claims were asserted) it cited additional bases for federal jurisdiction, in each case Syngenta relied on the federal common law of foreign relations in asserting that federal question jurisdiction arose under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. In four such cases (noted in the caption above), plaintiffs have moved for remand back to state court (Doc. # 283), based on their argument that the federal common law of foreign relations does not give rise to federal question jurisdiction under Section 1331 in these cases.

As an initial matter, in two of these four cases, Case Nos. 15-2012-JWL and 15-2017-JWL, Syngenta also asserted federal jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). In its Scheduling Order No. 1 (Doc. # 123), the Court ordered that any remand motion addressing any such basis for removal be filed by March 12, 2015, but plaintiffs in those two cases have not filed any motion addressing the removal of their cases under CAFA. Accordingly, because an independent basis for federal jurisdiction exists in those two cases, the Court denies the motion for remand as applied to Case Nos. 15-2012-JWL and 15-2017-JWL.

In the remaining two cases, for the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that the federal common law of foreign relations does not give rise to federal question jurisdiction under Section 1331. Accordingly, in Case Nos. 15-2018-JWL and 15-2240-JWL, the Court grants the motion for remand to state court.

I. Background

In Case No. 15-2018-JWL, plaintiffs Cargill, Inc. and Cargill International SA (collectively "Cargill") originally filed their action in Louisiana state court, asserting only state-law claims of negligence; knowing, reckless, or willful misconduct; unfair trade practice; tortious interference with business relations; and civil conversion. In Case No. 15-2240-JWL, plaintiff Archer Midland Daniels Co. ("ADM") originally filed its action in Louisiana state court, asserting only state-law claims of negligence, unfair trade practice, and civil conversion. In their state court petitions, Cargill and ADM (collectively "plaintiffs")-like the other plaintiffs in this MDL-generally allege that Syngenta wrongfully failed to take proper measures in introducing certain corn seeds into the market, and that plaintiffs suffered damages when exports of the corn to China were rejected. In asserting federal jurisdiction, Syngenta argues that at least some of plaintiffs' tort claims arise under federal law because they require a determination of the validity or lawfulness of the acts of the government of China in refusing to approve Syngenta's corn and in rejecting imports of the corn to that country, and that such issue presents a question of federal law under the federal common law of foreign relations.[1]

II. Analysis

A. Standards for Federal Jurisdiction

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction." See Gunn v. Minton, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1064 (2013) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). Removal statutes are to be narrowly construed. See Pritchett v. Office Depot, Inc., 420 F.3d 1090, 1094-95 (10th Cir. 2005).[2] "[T]here is a presumption against removal jurisdiction, " see Laughlin v. Kmart Corp., 50 F.3d 871, 873 (10th Cir. 1995), and "all doubts are to be resolved against removal, " see Fajen v. Foundation Reserve Ins. Co., 683 F.2d 331, 333 (10th Cir. 1982). The removing defendant bears the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction. See Dutcher v. Matheson, 733 F.3d 980, 985 (10th Cir. 2013).

Under Section 1331, federal district courts have jurisdiction over civil actions "arising under" federal law. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331. "Most directly, a case arises under federal law when federal law creates the cause of action asserted." See Gunn, 133 S.Ct. at 1064. In these two cases, plaintiffs have asserted purely state-law claims, and thus have not asserted any causes of action created by federal law. The "creation" test for federal question jurisdiction "admits of only extremely rare exceptions, " and the Supreme Court has set forth an additional test for determining the category of cases-described by that Court as a "special and small category" and a "slim category"-in which federal "arising under" jurisdiction over state-law-created claims still lies. See id. at 1064-65. The Supreme Court stated the test in Gunn as follows: "[F]ederal jurisdiction over a state law claim will lie if a federal issue is: (1) necessarily raised, (2) actually disputed, (3) substantial, and (4) capable of resolution without disrupting the federal-state balance approved by Congress." See id. at 1065 (citing Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g and Mfg., 545 U.S. 308, 313-14 (2005)). The Tenth Circuit has elaborated on the Gunn test by identifying the following principles that mark the "narrow boundaries" of this basis for federal jurisdiction:

[T]he recognition of substantial question jurisdiction does not disturb the long-settled understanding that the mere presence of a federal issue in a state cause of action does not automatically confer federal-question jurisdiction. Nor can federal question jurisdiction depend solely on a federal defense, even if the defense is anticipated in the plaintiff's complaint, and even if both parties concede that the federal defense is the only question truly at issue. Finally, if a claim does not present a nearly pure issue of law, one that could be settled once and for all and thereafter would govern numerous cases, but rather is fact-bound and situation-specific, then federal question jurisdiction will generally be inappropriate.

See Becker v. Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, 770 F.3d 944, 947-48 (10th Cir. 2014) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

Moreover, as the Becker court noted, see id., this inquiry by the Court is constricted by the well-pleaded complaint rule. "When determining whether a claim arises under federal law, we examine the well pleaded allegations of the complaint and ignore potential defenses." See Dutcher v. Matheson, 733 F.3d 980, 985 (10th Cir. 2013) (internal ...


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