A federal court in Missouri has denied in part and granted in part the summary judgment motions filed by Texas and Louisiana rice farmers as well as the company they sued in the first group of cases in this multidistrict litigation (MDL) to be remanded to their transferor courts for trial. In re: Genetically Modified Rice Litig., MDL No. 1811 (U.S. Dist. Ct., E.D. Mo., E. Div., decided February 1, 2011). The litigation involves claims that conventional U.S. rice farmers sustained market losses when other countries learned that the U.S. rice supply had been contaminated with a genetically modified (GM) rice variety and then prohibited all U.S. imports. To date, the company has lost a number of bellwether trials and has entered settlements with some purportedly affected farmers.

Relying on previous dispositive rulings, the court dismissed the Louisiana plaintiffs’ claims under the North Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act and their claims for punitive damages. The court allowed both groups of plaintiffs’ claims for negligence to proceed, “as well as the Texas plaintiffs’ claims for punitive damages and the Louisiana plaintiffs’ claims for trespass.” The court further dismissed the Louisiana plaintiffs’ claims for public and private nuisance, negligence per se, and to recover damages for mental anguish.

The court also dismissed the Texas plaintiffs’ claims for fraud, fraudulent nondisclosure, tortious interference with contract, and tortious interference with prospective business relations.

In addition, the court reiterated that the Plant Protection Act does not preempt plaintiffs’ claims “and that the regulations do not allow for low level or adventitious presence of regulated genetically modified rice in the commercial rice supply.” The court denied plaintiffs’ motions to establish the defendant’s liability “for the actions of its cooperators under various theories of vicarious liability,” finding that genuine disputes of fact remain as to agency, joint venture and nondelegable duty liability. And the court determined that the economic loss doctrine does not apply to bar these plaintiffs’ claims The court also issued rulings on a number of the defendant’s affirmative defenses, determining that it could not assert intervening and legal cause, and compliance with applicable statutes and regulations. The rulings will bind the trial courts hearing the individual claims of some two dozen Louisiana rice farmers and nearly 20 Texas farmers.