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Law Firm Accused of Not Sharing $30M in Fees in Syngenta MDL

March 22, 2021 | Posted in : Fee Agreement, Fee Allocation / Fee Apportionment, Fee Award, Fee Disbursement, Fee Dispute, Fee Entitlement / Recoverability, Fee Splitting / Sharing, Practice Area: Class Action / Mass Tort / MDL, Settlement Data / Terms

A recent Law 360 story by Kevin Penton, “Law Firm Accused of Not Sharing $30M Fee in Syngenta MDL,” reports that Heninger Garrison Davis LLC is refusing to honor an oral agreement to share two-thirds of the $30 million it received in fees from multidistrict litigation involving Syngenta's genetically modified corn, two other law firms are alleging.  Crumley Roberts LLP and Burke Harvey LLC allege that they struck a deal with Heninger Garrison to split three ways any fees the firms received from the litigation, but that the defendant is not meeting its end of the agreement, according to a complaint filed last month in Illinois state court that Heninger Garrison removed to the Southern District of Illinois.

Crumley Roberts and Burke Harvey allege that as part of the arrangement that originated in early 2015, they brought clients to the litigation and personally handled them, while Heninger Garrison dealt directly with the courts and defendants in the underlying dispute, according to the complaint.  After deducting any referral fees to other firms, the three firms were to then split the remaining money three ways, Crumley Roberts and Burke Harvey contend.

"Plaintiffs are entitled to distribution of their one-third each of the partnership's assets, which consist of the amount of the total fee award," the complaint reads.  "Notwithstanding repeated requests, [Heninger  Garrison] has failed and refused to pay this amount to plaintiffs."

The dispute arises from years of litigation over allegations that Syngenta should have delayed launching the corn seeds that were genetically modified to be pest-resistant until Chinese authorities — controlling a major corn market for U.S. growers — approved importing the GMO corn.  When China discovered a strain of corn with a mix of varieties in November 2013, it rejected American corn cargo and shut down the Chinese market for U.S. corn, costing the domestic U.S. industry more than $1 billion, some of the farmers in the litigation contended.

Syngenta agreed in March 2018 to a $1.51 billion settlement in the nationwide class action, with a plethora of law firms in the litigation receiving approximately a third of the amount, according to court documents.  Heninger Garrison on Friday urged the Southern District of Illinois to pause the proceedings in the attorney fees case to give the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation time to weigh the firm's request for a shift to the multidistrict litigation in the District of Kansas handling fee disputes.

"The plaintiffs' claims directly implicate the fee award to [Heninger Garrison] and seek the large majority of that award, which subjects the claims to the jurisdiction of the MDL in accordance with certain provisions in the class settlement agreement," reads Heninger Garrison's motion to stay.