Gilbert weighing jurisdiction over Swiss Syngenta in atrazine class action

Steve Korris Aug. 5, 2011, 7:15am


BENTON – As U.S. District Judge Phil Gilbert decides whether to exercise jurisdiction over Swiss holding company Syngenta AG, he will consider evidence that plaintiff lawyer Stephen Tillery urged him to ignore.

At a hearing on July 27, Gilbert denied Tillery's motion to strike declarations of Syngenta AG staff lawyers Elizabeth Quarles and Tobias Meili.

Quarles and Meili countered Tillery's claim that Syngenta AG controls Syngenta Crop Protection Inc., a company in North Carolina.

Tillery sued Syngenta AG and Syngenta Crop Protection last year on behalf of public and private water suppliers in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Iowa and Kansas.

He claimed weed killer atrazine, a product of Syngenta Crop Protection, contaminated water supplies.

Syngenta AG moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, and it submitted declarations of Quarles and Meili.

Their statements disturbed Tillery, who moved last December to strike them.

He wrote that Quarles made recommendations to conceal discrepancies between Syngenta AG's management and corporate forms to avoid jurisdiction of U. S. courts.

Tillery wrote that "management is actually performed by global and regional teams that operate outside corporate boundaries."

He wrote that all managers at Syngenta AG subsidiaries must answer to Syngenta AG's global or regional leaders regarding all non trivial activities.

He wrote that its lawyers do not advise changes to the management structure.

"Instead, they suggest ways to conceal or paper over problems," Tillery wrote.

He wrote that Quarles and Meili swore Syngenta AG is merely an investment vehicle with no interest in Syngenta Crop Protection Services, or SCPI.

"In his sworn declaration, Meili denies Sungenta AG's board and executive committee make decisions regarding SCPI's manufacture, marketing and sale of atrazine or any other products," Tillery wrote.

"Meili is either ignorant or willfully blind to how Syngenta AG conscripts SCPI employees to perform Syngenta AG's work, including requiring SCPI employees to oversee the management and operations of unrelated Syngenta companies and to manufacture and test products for other Syngenta entities."

He wrote that Quarles reported to Christoph Mader, "who sits atop Syngenta AG's global legal hierarchy."

He wrote that her declaration was littered with unsupported legal conclusions.

He wrote that she stated Syngenta AG doesn't own 100 percent of SCPI.

He wrote that she stated it doesn't produce, market or sell atrazine.

He wrote that she stated SCPI never acted as agent of Syngenta AG.

He wrote that she stated Syngenta AG doesn't direct or control SCPI's day to day operations.

He wrote that she stated Syngenta AG's board didn't make day to day decisions regarding manufacture, marketing or sale of atrazine.

He wrote that she stated SCPI manages its own employees.

He wrote that she stated Syngenta AG doesn't earn billions from SCPI's sale of atrazine in the U.S.

He asked Gilbert to reject her declaration and Meili's, but after a five hour hearing, he decided to admit them.

He said he would decide Syngenta AG's motion to dismiss as soon as possible.

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