U.S. District Judge David Herndon and Williamson County Circuit Judge Brad Bleyer jointly appointed former Madison County circuit judge Dan Stack to manage discovery in mass litigation against Syngenta Seeds.
Herndon appointed Stack as special master on Oct. 17, to assist him in coordinating with litigation pending before Bleyer.
He wrote that Stack would not issue any rulings, “as his role is one of mediation.”
If a dispute remains unresolved after a conference with Stack, it must be brought his attention promptly, he wrote.
Herndon presides over three suits with about 2,000 corn farmers as plaintiffs, and Bleyer presides over about 200 suits with multiple plaintiffs.
The farmers claim corn sells for lower prices because China won’t allow import of corn that grew from Syngenta’s genetically modified Viptera seeds.
Farmers have sued Syngenta Seeds by tens of thousands since 2014, creating a hodgepodge of jurisdiction.
Most early plaintiffs sued in the Southern District federal court, and they moved for national consolidation of all federal suits before Herndon.
The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi District Litigation granted consolidation, but not in Herndon’s court.
They assigned the action to District Judge John Lungstrum of Kansas City, Kansas, and cases poured into his court.
Meanwhile about 24,000 farmers sued Syngenta Seeds in Minnesota courts, where judges consolidated the actions before Hennepin County judge Thomas Sipkins.
A few plaintiffs sued in Louisiana state courts.
Many sued in Williamson County, Illinois.
Last year, the Onder Shelton firm of Webster Groves, Mo., filed three suits for 2,800 plaintiffs in Madison County circuit court.
Syngenta Seeds removed the cases to federal court and moved for coordination of discovery with Lungstrum and Sipkins.
Herndon denied the motion this July, finding he and Bleyer agreed that they should coordinate with each other.
“Because the litigation and discovery issues pending in both cases involve a mixture of federal and state jurisdiction, the federal magistrate judge cannot hear matters related to the federal litigation,” Herndon wrote.
He wrote that he would appoint a special master, and that it was understood that Bleyer intended to appoint the same person.
Herndon’s order of appointment provided that parties to any dispute would share equally in paying Stack, who charges $400 an hour and $100 an hour for travel.