CLIFFORD v. CROP PRODUCTION SERVICES (November 29, 2010)

John Clifford, III, had a contract with Monsanto to farm seed corn. One of the strains he planted in 2007 was a sensitive to two herbicides. When he noticed weeds in his corn and sought advice from Monsanto, however, he was told that there were no herbicide restrictions. Clifford went to Crop Production Services (“CPS”) for the proper treatment. CPS recommended a blend of the very two herbicides to which this particular strain was sensitive. CPS mixed a custom blend on several occasions and dispensed it into a tank that it had loaned Clifford for the season. Clifford applied the herbicide himself. Within a week, Clifford noticed corn damage. He eventually destroyed all the corn in one field and some of the corn in another. Pat Geneser, a Monsanto employee, inspected the fields and suspected that the damage was caused by glyphosphate, an ingredient in a different Monsanto herbicide. Laboratory tests confirmed trace amounts of glyphosphate in the corn. Clifford brought suit against CPS for negligence. CPS defended on four grounds: a) that the glyphosphate did not cause the harm, b) that if the glyphosphate did cause the harm, it did not come from CPS, c) that if CPS was the source of the glyphosphate and it did cause the harm, CPS did not breach a duty of care, and d) the claim was barred by the economic loss doctrine. Clifford did not disclose Geneser (or anyone else) as an expert witness within the time limitations, CPS moved for summary judgment on all four of its defenses, specifically relying on the absence of expert testimony for the first three. Magistrate Judge Bernthal (C.D. Ill.) concluded that Geneser's testimony was expert testimony and that it was inadmissible because of Clifford's failure to disclose. He granted summary judgment to CPS on the grounds that Clifford could not establish causation or breach of duty. Clifford appeals.

In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Posner and Wood and District Judge Adelman affirmed. The Court first concluded that Clifford waived his arguments that Geneser was a lay witness and that, even if he was an expert, his failure to disclose him was harmless. Clifford never even responded to CPS's waiver argument in its briefs. Alternatively, the Court concluded that it would affirm the summary judgment ruling even if it considered Geneser’s testimony. To defeat summary judgment, Clifford had to present sufficient testimony in three areas: that glyphosphate caused the harm, that CPS was the source of the glyphosphate, and that the harm would have been prevented had CPS exercised reasonable care. Even if admitted, Geneser's testimony would not permit a reasonable trier of fact to infer that CPS was the source of the glyphosphate or that it breached a duty of care. In fact, Clifford offered no evidence on a standard of care or its breach. To the extent that Clifford was invoking the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor, the Court stated that it was not a proper case for that doctrine.