By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter
OMAHA (DTN) -- Payouts from a $1.51 billion Syngenta settlement may arrive in farmers' mailboxes sometime in 2020, as attorneys in the case continue to battle a federal court on the allocation of fees.
Farmers originally were expected to begin receiving payments during the second quarter of 2019.
A federal judge in the district court case invalidated contingency fee agreements, however. With those types of agreements, a lawyer's fees comes from a percentage of money awarded to a client. Attorneys who had contingency agreements with some plaintiffs in the case have been fighting the court's decision.
Syngenta spokesman Paul Minehart told DTN that Syngenta plays no role in the distribution of settlement funds as the company already has contributed $1.51 billion.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas in Kansas City approved the settlement from a lawsuit filed following Syngenta's release of Agrisure Viptera (MIR162) and Agrisure Duracade corn traits. A lawsuit was filed by four Kansas farmers who represent more than 7,000 farmers in the state. It is the first of multiple lawsuits claiming Syngenta should have inspected and prevented harvested Viptera corn from being shipped to China in 2013 and 2014.
As a part of the settlement order, the district court set aside $503.33 million for attorneys' fees. The court issued another order dividing attorney fees by percentage.
That includes 49% to the Kansas multi-district litigation attorneys, 23.5% to attorneys in a Minnesota state court and 15.5% for attorneys in an Illinois state court.
In addition, the settlement order sets the number at 12% for individually retained private attorneys. It is this order that attorneys currently are fighting.
"My understanding is this is nothing really new, it's seen a lot in mass litigation where the plaintiff pool has class action plaintiffs and those that signed up with individual attorneys with contingency fee arrangements," Paul Goeringer, extension legal specialist at the University of Maryland, College Park, told DTN.
According to the settlement website https://www.cornseedsettlement.com/…, February 2020 is the earliest any payment amounts will be finalized and any payments issued.
In addition, there is an ongoing appeal filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver by certain producer class members who objected to the settlement. That group of producers filed an opening court brief for the appeal on May 30, 2019.
According to the settlement, there are four subclasses approved as eligible for payments.
First, are those farmers who owned any interest in corn in the United States but did not plant the Syngenta seeds in question. A second subclass includes any producer who owned any interest in corn in the U.S. priced for sale, purchased Agrisure Viptera and/or Agrisure Duracade corn seed, and produced corn grown from those traits.
The settlement also will include any grain-handling facility and ethanol plants that owned interest in corn priced for sale during the period.
The court said the first class will receive at least $1.44 billion. Most of that money will go to corn growers and landlords who did not grow Duracade or Viptera corn seeds. Payouts in the second class are limited to $22.6 million, $29.9 million for the third class and $19.5 million for the fourth class.
Plaintiffs in the cases allege Syngenta sold corn with Agrisure Viptera and Duracade traits prior to the traits receiving import approvals in several countries, including China. China claims it found and rejected corn shipments containing the traits, which plaintiffs said led to lower corn prices.
Official lawsuits that were filed on behalf of corn producers include cases in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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