By early 2021, plaintiffs had filed more than ninety federal lawsuits in sixteen different judicial districts alleging injuries associated with paraquat exposure. The lawsuits are filed against Syngenta Crop Protection LLC and Syngenta Corporation (Syngenta) and/or Chevron USA Inc. (Chevron). The plaintiffs in those cases claimed that exposure to paraquat caused them to develop Parkinson’s Disease.
|Litigation||Paraquat Products Liability Litigation|
|District||Southern District of Illinois|
|Assigned Judge||Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel|
On June 7, 2021, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) centralized the existing federal paraquat cases against Syngenta and Chevron for all pretrial purposes. The JPML order transferred the cases to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, and assigned the MDL to Chief U.S. District Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel, who was already presiding over the twenty paraquat cases pending in her district. Illinois ranks among the top 5 states in terms of paraquat usage, and the paraquat litigation has been ongoing in Illinois state courts for several years.
Judge Rosenstengel issued the first Case Management Order in the Paraquat MDL on June 10, 2021. That order laid out various procedures for the early stages of the MDL and scheduled an initial conference with the lawyers for both sides on June 23, 2021. At that conference, the court set dates for monthly status conferences , and set November 15, 2022 as the target date for the first MDL bellwether trial. In early July, the Judge appointed the leadership team for the plaintiffs’ counsel and appointed a Special Master to help resolve discovery disputes. The court seems determined to proceed quickly and efficiently.
On December 3, 2021, Judge Rosenstengel issued Case Management Order No. 12 establishing procedures for the parties and the Court to choose an initial pool of sixteen cases from which the first bellwether trials would be chosen. The Order also set out procedures and a timeline for what the Court called “limited discovery” in the cases chosen for the trial pool, and set the first four bellwether trials for:
This was a very aggressive schedule for a complex product liability MDL, but Judge Rosenstengel apparently believes that the discovery and arguments in the Paraquat cases already litigated in the state courts should help the MDL move quickly.
On February 14, 2022, the Court granted in part and denied in part the Defendants’ motions to dismiss the Plaintiffs’ claims. Judge Rosenstengel dismissed the public nuisance claims against Chevron, and certain Minnesota state law claims against Syngenta. The Defendants had argued that the various state statutes of repose barred many of the claims against them, but the court ruled the Plaintiffs had pled enough facts to support their argument that the “fraudulent concealment” exception to statutes of repose allowed their claims to move forward. The court’s ruling left most of the Plaintiffs’ claims intact.
The parties (particularly the plaintiffs) have pushed hard for more discovery and more time than the Court originally allowed. On March 7, 2022, the Court amended its protocol for selecting the bellwether cases from the sixteen cases in the trial pool, and extended some of the parties’ discovery deadlines, but kept the existing trial schedule in place.
On May 18, 2022, Judge Rosenstengel issued a second amendment to the discovery schedule, stating that the original schedule was unworkable due to the large number of witnesses the Plaintiffs had disclosed. In this order, the Court set the sequence and deadlines for a certain number of the different types of fact depositions and set strict time limits for each fact deposition. All fact depositions and any required independent medical examinations were to be completed no later than July 25, 2022. The Court stayed all existing deadlines related to expert disclosure and expert discovery, saying those would be reevaluated after the upcoming status conferences.
On June 17, 2022, after holding a Case Management Conference with the parties and conferring with the Special Master, the Court issued a third order amending the discovery schedule. This schedule extended the deadlines for certain types of fact depositions into September 2022. Judge Rosenstengel noted that six cases had been selected from the pool to be fully prepared for bellwether trials and set a schedule for expert discovery in those cases. Expert discovery will begin with plaintiffs’ general and specific expert disclosures on October 14, 2022 and will extend through the conclusion of expert deposition by February 6, 2023. The court will set the schedule for Daubert and summary judgment motions later, and Judge Rosenstengel stated that she fully intends to have all six of those cases prepared for trial.
The original November 15, 2022 date for first bellwether trial remains on the official schedule, but as a practical matter it is clear that this date will not hold. It seems most likely that the first bellwether trial will be held in the Paraquat MDL sometime in the summer of 2023. Even this delayed start represents a much faster progression to trial than in many MDLs.