United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
W. LUNGSTRUM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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.
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
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. 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.
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
Applicable Limitations Period
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.
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.
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.
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.