According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Agricultural Statistics Service (NAAS) October 10, 2014 report Crop Production, http://www.usda.gov/nass/PUBS/TODAYRPT/crop1014.pdf, Iowa was the number one corn-producing state in the United States, with more than 92,000 corn farmers working over 13,600,000 acres of farmland to produce 2.442 billion bushels of corn, or 16.87% of all corn produced in the United States. Several issues face our Iowa clients in pursuing their GMO corn lawsuits against Syngenta.
Statute of Limitations
Generally, Iowa has a two-year statute of limitations. Section 614.1(2) of the Iowa Code provides that “[a]ctions may be brought within the times herein limited, respectively, after their causes accrue, and not afterwards, except when otherwise specially declared: [t]hose founded on injuries … to relative rights, whether based contract or tort, or for a statute penalty, within two years.”
Although the statute of limitations in Minnesota is six years, Iowa farmers filing suit in the state of Minnesota don’t get the benefit of this statute. Indeed, Minnesota has a “borrowing statute,” providing that, if a claim is “substantively based upon the law of one other state, the limitation period of that state applies.” M.S.A. § 541.31.
Iowa farmers and grain elevators can file suit in the state courts of Hennepin County, Minnesota where Syngenta is based. M.S.A. § 542.09 (“in which one or more of the defendants reside when the action is begun.”). Syngenta may not remove the case to federal court based on the diversity of citizenship between the parties because Syngenta has been sued in its home state, and the federal statute governing the “removal of civil actions,” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2), provides that “[a] civil action otherwise removable solely on the basis of the jurisdiction under § 1332 (a) of this title may not be removed if any of the parties in interest properly joined and served as defendants is a citizen of the State in which such action is brought.” While Syngenta has sought to remove cases anyway based on the federal common law of foreign relations, plaintiffs have filed a motion to remand back to state court, and expect that motion to be granted.
Iowa farmers may also file suit in any federal court in their own state; however, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407(a)(“When civil actions involving one or more common questions of fact are pending in different districts, such actions may be transferred to any district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings.”), such cases have been, and will continue to be transferred to Kansas City, Kansas, where Judge John W. Lungstrum is overseeing MDL 2591, In Re: Syngenta AG MIR162 Corn Litigation. Every federal court case in the country will be consolidated into this Kansas City MDL proceeding.
Thus, almost every GMO corn lawsuit in the United States will be litigated in either Minnesota state courts or in federal court in Kansas City. Our firm is choosing to file in Hennepin County, Minnesota.
Iowa Code § 654 requires that mediation be offered before suit is filed. With respect to our Iowa clients, we are systematically presenting Syngenta’s lawyers with a Consolidated Request for Mediation, and giving Syngenta the right to waive mediation in writing. Once obtained, that waiver is presented to the Iowa Mediation Service, which then issues a Release of Mediation to the parties.
Choice of Law
Since Iowa cases are to be filed in Minnesota, the question arises, “which state’s law will apply to those cases?” For cases filed in Minnesota state court, where no conflict of law question has been raised, Minnesota law will govern. See Christian v. Birch, 763 N.W.2d 50, 55-57 (Minn. Ct. App. 2009). But when a party asserts that a case brought in Minnesota may have a significant relationship to more than one state, the Minnesota court must then consider whether there is a choice-of-law issue. Id. (citing William M. Richman & William L. Reynolds, Understanding Conflict of Laws § 1(c) (3rd ed. 2002) (stating that “[w]henever a legal problem involves incidents or issues concerning more than one state, a court must determine which state’s legal rules should control”)). The choice of law inquiry, of course, only arises if the conflicting rules of law are substantive, rather than procedural. See Danielson v. Nat’l Supply Co., 670 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Minn. App. 2003), review denied (Minn. 2003). Only if the issue implicates substantive law, does the choice of law analysis proceed; where the law at issue is procedural, “Minnesota follows the almost universal rule that matters of procedure and remedies are governed by the law of the forum state.” Id. at 5; see also Schwan’s Sales Enters., Inc. v. SIG Pack, Inc., 476 F.3d 594, 596 (8th Cir. 2007) (“Minnesota courts generally apply their state’s own procedure and remedies in all cases involving conflicts of laws, whether the parties have a choice-of-law agreement or not.”).
Therefore, it is anticipated that with respect to substantive law matters, the Minnesota court will consider together all legal briefing and motions concerning the substantive law of Iowa cases, and issue rulings based upon the substantive law of the state of Iowa. However, the procedural law of Minnesota will apply to cases filed in the state courts of Minnesota.
* This information is provided to supply relevant information concerning the GMO corn lawsuit, and should not be received as legal advice. Legal advice is only given to persons or entities with whom Watts Guerra LLP has established an attorney-client relationship. If you have another lawyer in the GMO Corn lawsuit, you should consult with your own attorney, and rely upon his or her advice, rather than the information contained herein.