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In re Syngenta AG MIR 162 Corn Litigation

United States District Court, D. Kansas

October 30, 2018

Syngenta AG, et al., (No. 16-2788-JWL) This Document Relates To: Louis Dreyfus Company Grains Merchandising LLC



         This single case within this MDL presently comes before the Court on the motion (Doc. # 93 in No. 16-2788) filed by defendants Syngenta AG; Syngenta Crop Protection AG; Syngenta Corporation; Syngenta Crop Protection, LLC; and Syngenta Seeds, LLC (collectively “Syngenta”) for judgment on the pleadings with respect to the remaining claims asserted by plaintiff Louis Dreyfus Company Grains Merchandising LLC (“LDC”). For the reasons set forth below, the Court cannot conclude as a matter of law that LDC's remaining claims are time-barred, and therefore the Court denies the motion.

         I. Background

         This MDL includes hundreds of similar suits filed against Syngenta by corn farmers and others in the corn industry. The suits generally relate to Syngenta's commercialization of genetically-modified corn seed products, Viptera and Duracade, which contained the trait MIR 162, without approval of that trait by China, an export market. The plaintiffs have alleged that Syngenta's commercialization of its products caused the genetically-modified corn 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 corn farmers and others in the industry were harmed by that market effect. The Court certified state-wide classes for tort claims by producers under the law of eight different states.[1]

         The particular case within the MDL to which this order relates was brought by plaintiff LDC in the District of Minnesota. LDC alleges that it operates grain elevators and that it buys, sells, and exports corn.[2] By its first amended complaint, LDC asserted claims against Syngenta under the federal Lanham Act and state-law claims for negligence, fraudulent misrepresentation, and tortious interference with business expectations. By Memorandum and Order of January 19, 2018, the Court dismissed plaintiff's Lanham Act and fraud claims, as well as the negligence claim to the extent based on certain theories. See In re Syngenta AG MIR 162 Corn Litig., 2018 WL 489098 (D. Kan. Jan. 19, 2018) (Lungstrum, J.). Syngenta now seeks judgment on the remaining negligence and tortious interference claims.

         II. Governing Standard

         A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) is analyzed under the same standard that applies to a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See Park Univ. Enterprises, Inc. v. American Cas. Co., 442 F.3d 1239, 1244 (10th Cir. 2006). The Court will dismiss a cause of action for failure to state a claim only when the factual allegations fail to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” see Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), or when an issue of law is dispositive, see Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326 (1989). The complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, but a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions; a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. See Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555. The Court must accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true, even if doubtful in fact, see id., and view all reasonable inferences from those facts in favor of the plaintiff, see Tal v. Hogan, 453 F.3d 1244, 1252 (10th Cir. 2006). Viewed as such, the “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” See Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555. The issue in resolving a motion such as this is “not whether [the] plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.” See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511 (2002) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

         III. Analysis

         A. Applicable Limitations Period

         As the Court has previously noted in this case, in this MDL the Court applies the choice of law rules of the state in which the particular action was originally filed, in this case Minnesota. See In re: Syngenta AG MIR 162 Corn Litig., 2018 WL 489098, at *3 (D. Kan. Jan. 19, 2018) (Lungstrum, J.) (citing Johnson v. Continental Airlines Corp., 964 F.2d 1059, 1063 n.5 (10th Cir. 1992)). Minnesota statutes provide that if a claim is substantively based on the law of another state, that state's limitation period and tolling rules apply to the claim. See Minn. Stat. § 541.31, subd. 1(a)(1); id. § 541.32; see also Whitney v. Guys, Inc., 700 F.3d 1118, 1123 n.6 (8th Cir. 2012). The Court has already ruled that LDC's common-law tort claims are governed by Connecticut law. See In re: Syngenta, 2018 WL 489098, at *3-4. Accordingly, LDC's remaining negligence and tortious interference claims are subject to Connecticut's limitations periods and tolling rules. LDC does not dispute that Connecticut law governs the timeliness of its claims.

         Syngenta argues that LDC's negligence claim is barred by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-584, which provides a two-year statute of limitations for certain negligence actions. As LDC points out, however, that statute applies on its face only to negligence actions to recover damages for injury to person or personal property, while the present action involves only alleged economic injuries. See id.; Tanasi v. CitiMortgage, Inc., 257 F.Supp.3d 232, 277 (D. Conn. 2017) (negligence claims for physical injuries must be brought within two years under Section 52-584, while negligence claims for economic damages are subject to the three-year period in Section 52-577). In its reply brief, Syngenta has not disputed that Section 52-584 cannot apply to LDC's claims of economic injuries. Accordingly, the Court will not apply Section 52-584's two-year limitations period in this case.

         The parties agree that LDC's claims are subject to the three-year statute of repose imposed by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-577. See Tanasi, 257 F.Supp.3d at 277; Travelers Indem. Co. v. Rubin, 551 A.2d 1220, 1223 (Conn. 1988) (Section 52-577 applies to all tort actions that do not fall within Section 52-584 or some other statute of limitation); PMG Land Assocs., L.P. v. Harbour Landing Condominium Ass'n, Inc., 42 A.3d 508, 512 (Conn. Ct. App. 2012) (applying Section 52-577 to a tortious interference claim). Section 52-577 provides as follows: “No action founded upon a tort shall be brought but within three years from the date of the act or omission complained of.” See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-577. This is an occurrence statute---the three-year period runs not when the plaintiff discovers its injury, but rather on the date the defendant's conduct occurs. See Watts v. Chittenden, 22 A.3d 1214, 1219 (Conn. 2011). LDC filed this action against Syngenta on October 21, 2016. Therefore, in the absence of any tolling of this statute, LDC's claims are time-barred to the extent based on conduct by Syngenta occurring prior to October 21, 2013.

         Syngenta argues that LDC's claims are barred because they are based on Syngenta's allegedly negligent commercialization of Viptera, which would have taken place in 2010 and early 2011 when that product was first launched in anticipation of the 2011 planting and growing season. In response, LDC argues that it is entitled to American Pipe tolling. LDC further argues that it has alleged wrongful conduct occurring after October 2013 and that its claims are made timely by Connecticut's continuing course of conduct doctrine. The Court addresses those two assertions of tolling in turn.

         B. ...

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