Bethany Krajelis Oct. 16, 2014, 1:36pm

A federal judge is questioning whether she has jurisdiction over a lawsuit that six Arkansas plaintiffs filed earlier this month in the Southern District of Illinois against a seed developer facing several class action complaints stemming from its genetically engineered corn seed.

U.S. District Judge Staci M. Yandle on Tuesday filed a memorandum, ordering the plaintiffs who sued Syngenta AG and Syngenta Seeds Inc. on Oct. 3 to submit an amended complaint by Oct. 31 to correct a jurisdictional defect she pointed out, as well as any others.

If they fail to do so, Yandle, who noted she brought up the matter on her “own initiative for purposes of case management,” said she would dismiss the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The plaintiffs -- Jesse Briggs, Briggs Brothers, Old River Farms, Big Mo Farms Partnership, Big Bayou Meto Farms and Cole Briggs Farms – “have invoked but not properly pled diversity of citizenship as a basis of federal jurisdiction,” she explained.

Noting that “Federal courts have jurisdiction over a civil action between citizens of different states,” Yandle wrote in her two-page order. “Here, Plaintiffs have pleaded the residence rather than the citizenship of the individual plaintiffs. Plaintiffs have further failed to properly allege the citizenship of the non-individual plaintiffs.”

The suit lists all of the plaintiffs, Briggs and the five farms, “as residents of the State of Arkansas.” It identifies Syngenta Seeds as a Delaware corporation based in Minnesota and Syngenta AG as a Swiss company headquartered in Switzerland, with both of them conducting business in Illinois.

The Syngenta defendants were hit with several suits earlier this month over their four-year-old corn trait known MIR162. The plaintiffs include farmers and farms in states, including Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, and most seek class action status.

Like the plaintiffs in the other suits filed earlier this month, Briggs and the five farms  claim while they didn’t buy MIR162, it has affected their businesses based on China’s zero-tolerance policy for seed.

Trans Coastal Supply Co. and Cargill Inc. made similar claims in separate lawsuits filed last month, when they claimed they were expecting to lose millions as a result of the seed's sale and its alleged devastation on the U.S. corn export to China.

The seed --which includes first generation “Agrisure Viptera” and second generation, “Agrisure Duracade--  was developed to make corn resistant to damage caused by certain worms feeding on the crop, but has not yet garnered governmental approval in China, a growing export market for U.S. corn.

Although it was approved in the U.S. in 2010 and other countries since, the defendants’ failure to obtain China’s OK on its MIR162 trait has, according to the suits filed this month, resulted in an import ban of U.S. corn to China, a decline in corn prices and at least a billion dollars in losses to the industry this year.

In the suit filed in the Southern District of Illinois, the plaintiffs assert that “Syngenta’s conduct in marketing, distributing, and selling unapproved corn seed violates the legal standards of the marketplace because the primary market risk falls on U.S. farmers, grain handlers, and exporters, not on Syngenta.”

Their complaint does not appear to be a class action, like many of the others filed this month. It includes counts for negligence, res ipsa loquitor, strict liability and public and private nuisance.

Briggs and the five farm plaintiffs want the court to make the Syngenta defendants pay them compensatory, consequential, exemplary and punitive damages, as well as costs, attorney’s fees, and interest.

Their suit was submitted by Clayton A. Clark and Scott A. Love of Clark Love & Hutson in Houston and Martin J. Phipps of Phipps Vavazos in San Antonio.

It appears the filing of the suits brought earlier this month in other jurisdictions was coordinated by the Washington D.C. firm of Hausfeld LLP.

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