The vast majority of the GMO corn lawsuits filed thus far have been filed in Minnesota state court. Syngenta has removed these cases to federal court, arguing that the federal common law of foreign relations creates federal question jurisdiction. Plaintiffs have requested the court to remand these cases back to state court, arguing that Syngenta is attempting to wildly stretch the common law of foreign relations in a way never before done by any court. The federal MDL Judge, Hon. John W. Lungstrum, United States District Judge for the District of Kansas, has conducted a hearing in Kansas City to decide this issue. Judge Lungstrum has already ordered some GMO corn lawsuits back to state court, and will most likely order the rest back to state court in the near future.
GMO Corn Cases Belong in State Court
Lawsuits for over 5,500 farmers and grain elevators have been filed against Syngenta in the state courts of Minnesota. This is an appropriate jurisdiction and venue because Syngenta’s U.S. operations are based there.
There are two ways a federal court can have subject-matter jurisdiction over a lawsuit; either the lawsuit must be based in federal law or defendants and plaintiffs are from different states and the defendant is being sued in a state where they do not reside. Since, Syngenta has been sued in its own state, Syngenta may not remove the case to federal court based on diversity of citizenship. However, Syngenta is arguing that the plaintiffs’ cases raise federal common law issues about foreign relations.
Syngenta Argues Injury to Local Farmers is a Federal Issue
Syngenta has removed these cases, and others filed by Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland Company (“ADM”) in Louisiana state courts, to federal court, by arguing that the federal common law of foreign relations creates federal question jurisdiction. Inside its Notices of Removal, Syngenta contends that “[r]emoval is proper because plaintiffs’ claims necessarily raise a substantial federal issue, which is actually disputed, concerning the federal common law of foreign relations.” Syngenta further argues that because “[f]ederal common law includes ‘interstate and international disputes implicating the conflicting rights of States or our relations with foreign nations,’” “courts have concluded that even when a plaintiff asserts purely state-law claims, federal question jurisdiction exists if the resolution of such claims ‘necessarily require determinations that will directly and significantly affect American foreign relations.” Syngenta believes that Plaintiffs’ cases require the courts to adjudicate the legality of China’s actions, and that Plaintiffs allege damages “because their corn shipments were rejected by Chinese authorities.” Finally, Syngenta concludes that Plaintiffs’ petition “thus necessarily implicates China’s sovereign right to regulate the importation of genetically modified crops within its borders, because there is no way to resolve the elements of plaintiffs’ claims without determining the role played by the Chinese government itself.”
Plaintiffs Explain Syngenta’s Theory to Judge as a Wild Stretch
Plaintiffs have requested the Court to send these cases back to state courts, arguing that Syngenta is attempting to wildly stretch the common law of foreign relations in a way never before done by any court. Specifically, Plaintiffs have argued that “under the well-pleaded complaint rule, Syngenta’s attempt to raise the lawfulness of China’s actions cannot support federal jurisdiction.” Plaintiffs further contend that “no federal issue is ‘necessarily raised’ because Plaintiffs need not show – and a court need not decide – the lawfulness of China’s actions for Plaintiffs to establish the elements of their negligence claims.” Specifically, Plaintiffs’ claims that their harms were foreseeable do not require the Court to decide the lawfulness of China’s actions. Next, Plaintiffs argue that “even if a court were required to decide whether China’s actions were lawful, jurisdiction does not lie under the federal common law of foreign relations” because “the federal common law of foreign relations does not literally govern ‘all questions’ related, however incidentally, to an ‘Act of State,’ and no court has ever held that it does” and because “Syngenta’s policy arguments are insufficient and illogical.” Finally, Plaintiffs conclude that “the alleged inquiry into whether China acted lawfully with respect to MIR 162 corn does not present a ‘substantial’ federal issue.”
The federal MDL Judge, Hon. John W. Lungstrum, United States District Judge for the District of Kansas, conducted a hearing in Kansas City to decide this issue. On May 5, 2015, he concluded that the GMO corn lawsuits do not present a substantial federal issue and remanded some GMO corn lawsuits back to state court. Judge Lungstrum will most likely remand all other GMO corn lawsuits removed on the basis of the common law of foreign relations back to state court in the near future.
* 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.