Some of the largest companies in the agriculture industry produce chemicals and seeds to sell to farms. These companies provide herbicides, pesticides, and seeds that are resilient to both natural and man-made dangers to plants. These companies, including Bayer, BASF, Nutrien, Corteva, and Syngenta, have consistently been involved in various types of litigation. Recently, they were named beside each other as defendants in a series of class-action antitrust lawsuits.
This article will consider analytics of lawsuits involving three separate agrichemical companies, Syngenta, Corteva, and Nutrien Ag Solutions, since the beginning of 2019. Aside from some of the recent antitrust lawsuits, the companies’ legal histories are very unique and the legal statistics vary significantly between them.
Each of these companies was selected because they are primarily involved in the agricultural market, manufacturing and selling chemicals, seeds, and other supplies. Companies such as BASF and Bayer were excluded as much of their litigation involves non-agricultural sectors. In the case of Bayer, the massive litigation involving its subsidiary Monsanto’s production of Roundup is worthy of a separate analysis.
Varying Lawsuit Types and Roles
Syngenta calls itself a “leading science-based agtech company” and says it helps farmers grow safe and nutritious food while caring for the environment. According to PACER’s nature of suit system, Syngenta’s most frequent case type in recent years is appellate Agricultural Acts, but this only consists of about 12 percent of their lawsuits over the last two years, the majority of lawsuits the company is involved in are listed as “Other” in Docket Alarm’s analytics; including significant amounts of patent and trademark prosecution and litigation. Syngenta is involved in 67 patent application filings and over 50 filings before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. Syngentia is the defendant in almost 70 percent of its cases.
Corteva claims it is “the only major agriscience company completely dedicated to agriculture,” and advertises its efforts to develop agricultural scientific expertise. According to Docket Alarm analytics, Corteva is a defendant in a lawsuit even more frequently than Syngenta, and has not filed a lawsuit in the last two years against another party, although it has entered one case as a third party. Almost 95 percent of the lawsuits filed against Corteva include PACER code 365 for product liability. Lawsuits against the company claim that its products harmed those who came in contact with them or caused harm to the environment.
Alternatively, Nutrien, or Nutrien Ag Solutions, is most frequently the plaintiff, which is the case in 222 of the lawsuits it has been involved in recently. Many of its cases in state court seem to be part of an effort by Nutrien to have the court enforce its contracts with farmers and require them to pay for the seeds or products they took at the beginning of their growing season. Although there are multiple case types listed for Nutrien, the most common case type is garnishment. Nutrien advertises that it is seeking to grow the agriculture market to meet a growing world.
Out of these three agriculture companies, Corteva has been involved in the highest number of lawsuits during the last two years, 795, with an average of 1.3 per day. The company received a large spike in lawsuits in early 2020 with 140 in January and 191 in February. Primarily, these lawsuits list the company as one of many defendants, including DuPont de Nemours and Dow Agrosciences. Corteva is a consolidation of the agriculture seed and chemical sections of DuPont and Dow.
Many of the lawsuits against Corteva have been consolidated into multidistrict litigation before South Carolina District Judge Richard Gergel. This group of lawsuits purported that Corteva was partially at fault for polluting water supplies with polyfluoroalkyl substances or causing other environmental harm. It should be noted that Corteva became a public company in 2019, so there were not many lawsuits against the company during 2019.
Nutrien Ag Solutions has the most consistent new filing of the three companies, although there are a few outliers and the number of lawsuits each month varies, the volume typically stays between five and 15. More recently the company’s average rate of lawsuits has gone down, over the last few years the average is 2.8 per week, but during the last three months its lawsuit volume has decreased to 1.7 each week.
Syngenta’s lawsuit volume appears to be the least predictable and shows few trends month to month. The company does have the lowest frequency litigation of the three companies, with an average of 1.9 lawsuits each week since the beginning of 2019. Syngenta’s volume does follow the same overall trend as the others with a decreasing average volume during the last few months. It is possible with the recent antitrust lawsuits against the major crop producing companies that an increase could reverse this general trend.
None of the data for the three companies featured here showed a significant decrease in cases near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused some delays in the legal industry in general as courts made alterations to accommodate social distancing guidelines. Corteva did see a sharp decrease in lawsuit volume in March 2020, but the volume returned in April. The general trend of Nutrien’s lawsuits moved up between February and June of 2020, unfazed by the pandemic.
Among the cases included in Docket Alarm’s data, Syngenta is primarily represented by The Watson IP Group, which has represented the company in over half of its matters where it retained a firm during the last two years and is the only company to have filed an appearance for the company during 2021. On other matters, Syngenta has also been represented in the last few years by Kirkland & Ellis; Berkowitz Oliver; Olson, Cannon, Gormley, Angulo & Stobersky; Bradley Arant Boult Cummings; Greenberg Traurig; Greenberg Gross; and Maslon, with no significant change in the relative volume of cases between the years.
Compared to Syngenta, Nutrien has a less consistent representation history. Finucane and Hartzell represented the company six times in 2019 and once in 2021 but did not represent them in any of the 20 lawsuits Nutrien was represented in during 2020. Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath, formerly known as Faegre Baker Daniels, represented Syngenta only three times in 2019 but represented the company almost half of the time in 2020. The firm represented Syngenta in a total of 12 matters and may have filled the gap left by Finucane and Hartzell for 2020. Sasser, Sefton & Brown and Rogers Townsend, according to Docket Alarm data, each represented the company in 9 lawsuits out of the total 45.
Docket Alarm’s data shows only 15 lawsuits where Corteva retained representation, although this understates the scale of their litigation. Bartlit Beck is representing Corteva in the multidistrict case; many smaller cases that Corteva faces are consolidated into the larger matter.
These three companies were not parties to the same lawsuit in the last few years, up until five suits filed in early 2021 alleged anticompetitive activity among major agricultural companies. The lawsuits claimed that the companies artificially raised the price of seeds and chemicals, citing a much higher rise in seed price when compared to crop yields. Docket Alarm data shows that three of the lawsuits were filed in the Illinois Southern District Court and the other two were filed in the Minnesota District Court, one of the lawsuits in each court was filed by the same plaintiff, Charles Lex. These five lawsuits follow similar patterns and make almost identical allegations.
Antitrust lawsuits are not new to the agricultural industry; there are ongoing consolidated antitrust lawsuits dealing with chicken, beef, pork, and turkey producers along with lawsuits regarding crops like peanuts.
Although these three agricultural supply companies, Syngenta, Corteva, and Nutrien, are involved in the same business, the federal litigation they are involved in varies significantly. Corteva is involved in broader pollution and environmental claims, Nutrien is primarily the plaintiff in lawsuits to enforce contracts, and Syngenta is involved primarily in patent and trademark lawsuits. Each company did not encounter many antitrust allegations during the last two years, but are facing five since the start of 2021.
The analytics in this article are powered by One-Click Analytics from Docket Alarm. To learn more, schedule a demo with the Docket Alarm team.