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In re Syngenta AG MIR162 Corn Litigation

United States District Court, D. Kansas

May 21, 2019

IN RE SYNGENTA AG MIR 162 CORN LITIGATION
v.
Watts Guerra, LLP, et al., No. 18-2408-JWL This Document Relates To Kellogg, et al.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN W. LUNGSTRUM, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on plaintiffs' motion to vacate the Court's dismissal order and judgment in favor of defendants (Doc. # 172). In this case, plaintiffs asserted claims against defendants, their counsel in this MDL's underlying litigation against Syngenta. In general, plaintiffs alleged that defendants engaged in a fraudulent scheme to maximize attorney fees, in which they pursued individual lawsuits on behalf of their clients while misrepresenting or failing to disclose the possibility and benefits of participating in class actions. By Memorandum and Order of March 1, 2019, the Court dismissed the action, ruling that plaintiffs had failed to satisfy the constitutional requirement of standing. See In re Syngenta AG MIR 162 Corn Litig., 2019 WL 1002352 (D. Kan. Mar. 1, 2019) (Lungstrum, J.). Plaintiffs now move essentially for reconsideration of that ruling. As more fully set forth below, upon further consideration, the Court concludes that plaintiffs have alleged an injury recognized under Minnesota law, and therefore that defendants are not entitled to dismissal of plaintiffs' Minnesota state-law claims for lack of standing. Accordingly, plaintiffs' motion is granted in part and denied in part. The Court vacates the judgment as it pertains to plaintiffs' claims under Minnesota law, and plaintiffs' motion is granted to that extent. The motion is denied with respect to plaintiffs' federal claims, which remain dismissed.

         I. Governing Standards

         Plaintiffs argue by the present motion that the Court erred in dismissing this suit for lack of standing; thus, plaintiffs seek reconsideration of that ruling by the Court. The Court's rules provide that a party seeking reconsideration of a dispositive order or judgment must pursue such relief through a motion filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) or Fed.R.Civ.P. 60. See D. Kan. Rule 7.3(a). In the present motion, plaintiffs state that they seek relief under Rule 60(b)(1) and (6). Those provisions impose a high hurdle, allowing for relief only for an obvious error of law that is apparent on the record or in the case of truly extraordinary circumstances. See Van Skiver v. United States, 952 F.2d 1241, 1244-45 (10th Cir. 1991).

         Defendants argue that plaintiffs have invoked the wrong rule. Defendants rely on Van Skiver, in which the Tenth Circuit stated that a challenge to the correctness of the district court's adverse judgment, based on the argument that the court misapplied the law or misunderstood the plaintiff's position, is properly brought under Rule 59(e) or on direct appeal, and does not justify relief under Rule 60(b). See Id. at 1244. Defendants note that plaintiffs make just such an argument here, and they further note that the 28-day deadline has now passed for a motion under Rule 59. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e). Thus, defendants argue that the Court should not address the merits of plaintiffs' motion.

         Plaintiffs respond to this argument with their own citation to Van Skiver. In that case, the Tenth Circuit construed the plaintiffs' motion as one under Rule 60 because plaintiffs had missed the deadline for a motion under Rule 59. See Van Skiver, 952 F.2d at 1243. The Tenth Circuit distinguished between the two rules as follows:

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not recognize a “motion to reconsider.” Instead, the rules allow a litigant subject to an adverse judgment to file either a motion to alter or amend the judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) or a motion seeking relief from the judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b). These two rules are distinct; they serve different purposes and produce different consequences. Which rule applies to a motion depends essentially on the time a motion is served. If a motion is served within ten days of the rendition of judgment, the motion ordinarily will fall under Rule 59(e). If the motion is served after that time it falls under Rule 60(b).

See Id. (citations omitted). Plaintiffs argue, based on this statement, that because they filed their motion more than ten days after the Court's March 1 judgment, the motion properly falls under Rule 60(b). At the time Van Skiver was decided, however, Rule 59(e) required that motions be filed within ten days. The rule has since been amended, and parties now have 28 days from the date of judgment in which to file a motion to alter or amend under Rule 59(e). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e). Plaintiffs filed their motion on March 27, 2019, within 28 days of the judgment. Thus, plaintiffs were free to seek relief under Rule 59(e).

         Plaintiffs insist in their reply brief that their motion is properly considered under Rule 60(b), but because plaintiffs essentially argue that the Court misapplied the law or misunderstood plaintiffs' position, the motion is properly considered under Rule 59(e), as argued by defendants and as explained by the Tenth Circuit in Van Skiver. Defendants argue that the deadline has now passed for a Rule 59(e) motion, but plaintiffs did file the instant motion within the 28-day deadline. Accordingly, the Court will construe the motion as a motion to alter or amend the judgment under Rule 59(e), and it will apply the standards governing review under that rule. See, e.g., Jones v. Colvin, 2015 WL 5883910, at *1 (D. Kan. Oct. 8, 2015) (Lungstrum, J.) (construing motion filed within 28 days of the judgment as a motion to alter or amend under Rule 59(e)), aff'd, 647 Fed.Appx. 878 (10th Cir. 2016).

         The Tenth Circuit has set forth the following standards to govern a motion to reconsider under Rule 59(e):

Grounds warranting a motion to reconsider include (1) an intervening change in the controlling law, (2) new evidence previously unavailable, and (3) the need to correct clear error or prevent manifest injustice. Thus, a motion for reconsideration is appropriate where the court has misapprehended the facts, a party's position, or the controlling law. It is not appropriate to revisit issues already addressed or advance arguments that could have been raised in prior briefing.

See Servants of Paraclete v. Does, 204 F.3d 1005, 1012 (10th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). Plaintiffs have not cited an intervening change in the law or presented new evidence previously unavailable; rather, plaintiffs argue that the Court erred by misapprehending their arguments and the controlling law concerning standing.

         II. Analysis

         In its previous order, by which it granted defendants' motions to dismiss for lack of standing, the Court noted that (as plaintiffs had not disputed) plaintiffs' amended complaint alleged only two ways in which plaintiffs were harmed by defendants' conduct: plaintiffs were excluded from class actions in the Syngenta litigation; and plaintiffs would effectively pay attorney fees twice, through a common fund award and under their contingent fee contracts with defendants. See Syngenta, 2019 WL 1002352, at *2. The Court ruled that plaintiffs could not suffer either harm under the Syngenta settlement agreement (from which plaintiffs did not opt out) and the Court's orders because all claimants will recover on an equal basis, whether they filed individual suits or participated merely as class members in class actions; and because attorneys ...


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