The parties have completed their briefing of two important substantive motions including Daubert and partial summary judgment. They are now poised to begin arguments and obtain testimony at the Daubert hearing which begins on August 21, 2023. These briefs have been filed under seal except for a single “roadmap brief” filed by defendants on June 9th arguing the science does not support the general causation opinions of Plaintiffs’ experts.
Judge Rosenstengl issued an order on July 28th which, among others, requires Plaintiffs’ expert Dr. Martin Wells to appear and be subject to direct and cross-examination by respective counsel. The Order also allows the parties to submit limited post-hearing closing briefs on or before September 8th.
The outcome of these motions will certainly impact the first bellwether trial of the MDL which is scheduled to begin October 16, 2023.
The first California state court trial, in Contra Costa County, had been scheduled to begin on September 6th but was rescheduled to January 8, 2024. The hearing on Sargon motions (California’s version of a Daubert hearing) and motions for summary judgment is set to begin October 10, 2023. According to Syngenta’s most recently filed Annual Report another case is also set for trial on January 8, 2024 in Florida state court.
One key positive fact that has flown under the radar is that sometime in 2021 Syngenta and Chevron appeared to acknowledge the powerful threat of this litigation by settling an unknown number of Illinois state court cases (in St. Clair County and elsewhere) and 16 California cases pre-trial for $187.5 million. The settlement might have primarily been intended to (1) prevent Stephen Tillery from going forward with high-profile jury trials in St. Clair County and elsewhere in Illinois, and (2) keep the litigation out of the headlines. Assuming the number of settling plaintiffs was relatively small, this Syngenta-disclosed settlement number seems to have provided substantial payouts on a per-plaintiff basis.
This prior settlement should be kept in mind as plaintiffs head towards these important October and January trials.
Quote from Syngenta’s 2021 Annual Report:
“Settlement. On June 1, 2021, Syngenta and a third party co-defendant reached a settlement agreement with paraquat claimants represented by the lead counsel in the Hoffmann cases that were set for trial in St. Clair County, Illinois, and in most of the then-pending California state court cases. In exchange for (and contingent upon) dismissal of all pending cases represented by the lead counsel and a broad release from the covered claimants, Syngenta agreed to pay $187.5 million. Syngenta paid its share into the Qualified Settlement Escrow Fund on July 21, 2021 for purposes of third party verification and allocation among the claimants. The settlement expense is reported within Other general and administrative in the income statement.”
As of July 20, 2023 there were 4,384 active cases pending in the MDL, 298 active cases pending in various California state courts (244 of which are consolidated in a JCCP), and additional cases are proceeding in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas, Complex Litigation Center, has at least 260 cases), Illinois, Florida, Washington, and Delaware.