Attorney’s Fees Lawsuit Following Genetically Modified Corn Settlement Appealed to 10th Circuit

Judge John W. Lungstrum’s order in a District of Kansas multidistrict litigation lawsuit regarding attorneys fees, given on June 4, was appealed to the Tenth Circuit by the plaintiffs and docketed in the court on Tuesday. The consolidated lawsuit was filed by attorneys who felt they were not getting the fees allotted to them through a settlement with Syngenta in a genetically modified corn lawsuit.

This issue stemmed from a lawsuit filed in 2014 against Syngenta and other related entities and their commercialization of corn with a genetically modified trait, namely MIR 162. Although the modified corn was authorized to be grown and consumed in the United States, it was not approved for importation into China, and corn farmers reportedly lost funds as China banned corn with this genetic trait.

Under the 2018 settlement in this matter, one third of the funds were awarded as attorneys fees, including 12% for the individually-retained private attorneys, which came to $60.5 million. The funds were designed to be distributed “pro rata based on the ultimate recoveries by their claimant clients.” The court also ruled that a contingent fee would be available for the private attorneys who did not do work which benefited the entire class. This is the amount contested in the present lawsuit. Reportedly, there were 114,060 attorney applications for the pool of individually-retained private attorneys.

In the appealed order, the District of Kansas reported that the court had received objections to the special master’s Report and Recommendation for attorney fee awards from two groups of plaintiffs and attorneys, “attorneys associated with the Toups and Coffman firms; and the Shields, Paul Byrd, and Hossley-Embry firms.” Despite these objections, the court adopted the report and recommendation and awarded attorneys fees as it outlined. 

The court explained how it has been separating the claims, noting that it received and resolved 2,800 appeals of rejected applications for attorneys fees, and under the approved recommendation, 4,587 submissions were rejected where there was no appeal and 1,166 submissions were rejected where there was an unsuccessful appeal. 

“The special master was assigned a monumental task, and the Court is convinced that she performed to the highest standard.  The R&R (report and recommendation) demonstrates that the special master and claims administrator  conducted a thorough and thoughtful review of more than 100,000 submissions by IRPA applicants, and the Court did not receive a single objection relating to the matters addressed in the R&R,” the order said. 

Recently, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ruled to move an additional case into this consolidated matter, although the plaintiffs opposed the transfer. In that case, two law firms alleged that a third firm owed them $10 million for work they did on the Syngenta case.