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Smokey Alley Farm Partnership v. Monsanto Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

January 3, 2018

SMOKEY ALLEY FARM PARTNERSHIP, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MONSANTO COMPANY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN M. BODENHAUSEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion to Stay Proceedings Pending Resolution of Motion for Transfer of Related Actions Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1407 by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (“JPML”) (ECF No. 60). Defendant BASF Corporation (“BASF”) filed a Response in Opposition (ECF No. 65), Defendants E.I. Du Pont De Nemours and Company and Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. (“Du Pont and Pioneer”) filed a joint Memorandum in Opposition (ECF No. 69), and Defendant Monsanto Company (“Monsanto”) filed a separate Memorandum in Opposition (ECF No. 69) (collectively “Defendants”). Plaintiffs filed a Reply (ECF No. 79) thereto. The motion is fully briefed and ready for disposition. The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Plaintiffs' motion to stay.

         Plaintiffs move to stay the proceedings in this case, the briefing of the motions to dismiss, pending resolution of the motion to transfer and consolidate this action with eight other dicamba cases by the JPML. Defendants oppose the motion to stay, arguing that transfer to the Multidistrict Litigation (“MDL”) is not appropriate, and regardless of the JPML's decision, the motions to dismiss will need to be briefed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On July 19, 2017, Plaintiffs Smokey Alley Farm Partnership, Amore Farms, JTM Farms Partnership, Kenneth Loretta Qualls Farm Partnership, Qualls Land Co., McLemore Farms LLC, and Michael Baioni filed their Class Action Complaint, asserting Sherman Act, Lanham Act, products liability, trespass, public nuisance, strict liability, negligence, Arkansas' Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and civil conspiracy claims with allegations relating to seed products and three different herbicides. (ECF No. 1) On October 13, 2017, Defendants filed three separate motions to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint. (ECF Nos. 43, 45, and 47) Rather than opposing the motions to dismiss, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on November 3, 2017, expanding their claims and the number of states involved, terminating party defendant DuPont Pioneer, and adding numerous plaintiffs to the putative class action.

         Plaintiffs' claims in the amended complaint include alleged violations of federal and state antitrust laws, state tort claims under five different states' laws, and alleged Lanham Act violations. On December 12, 2017, Plaintiffs filed their Motion to Stay. (ECF No. 60) On December 18, 2017, Defendants once again filed separate motions to dismiss. (ECF Nos. 72, 74, and 76)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The power of a district court to stay an action pending on its docket is “incidental to the power inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel, and for litigants.” Landis v. North Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936); see also Contracting Nw, Inc. v. City of Fredricksburg, 713 F.2d 382, 387 (8th Cir. 1983) (noting that district courts have “inherent power to grant [a] stay in order to control its docket, conserve judicial resources, and provide for a just determination of the cases pending before it.”); Lockyer v. Mirant Corp., 398 F.3d 1098, 1109 (9th Cir. 2005) (“A district court has discretionary power to stay proceedings in its own court under Landis.”); Capitol Indem. Corp. v. Haverfield, 218 F.3d 872, 874 (8th Cir. 2000). In evaluating a potential stay, the Court must “weigh competing interests and maintain an even balance.” Landis, 299 U.S. at 255. A court need not automatically stay a case merely because a party has moved the MDL for transfer and consolidation. Rivers v. Walt Disney Co., 980 F.Supp. 1358, 1360 (C.D. Cal. 1997); MDL Rule 1.5 (pendency of a motion does not affect pretrial proceedings in district court and does not limit pretrial jurisdiction of the court). The party seeking a stay must “make out a clear case of hardship or inequity.” Id. The burden is on the party “seeking to delay the usual course of discovery and trial.” Jones v. Clinton, 72 F.3d 1354, 1364 (8th Cir. 1986) (“Traditionally, an applicant for a stay has the burden of showing specific hardship or inequity if he or she is required to go forward.”). Accordingly, the court must balance the consequences of imposing a stay on the opposing party against the consequences of proceeding on the movant. Id.

         In determining whether a stay is appropriate under the circumstances, the Court should consider three factors: “(1) potential prejudice to the nonmoving party; (2) hardship and inequity to the moving party if the action is not stayed; and (3) the judicial resources that would be saved by avoiding duplicative litigation if the cases are in fact consolidated.” Witherspoon v. Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 2013 WL 6069011, at *2 (E.D. Mo. Nov. 18, 2013) (quoting Rivers, 980 F.Supp. at 1360). “Courts consider other factors as well, including efficiency concerns such as ‘the prospect of narrowing the factual and legal issues in the proceeding.'” U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n v. Moses, 2016 WL 7178750, *2 (E.D. Mo. Dec. 9, 2016) (quoting Simmons v. GlaxoSmithKline, LLC, 2015 WL 6063926, at *1 (E.D. Mo. Oct. 14, 2015)).

         III. MOTION TO STAY AND RESPONSIVE PLEADINGS

         On December 12, 2017, Plaintiffs filed the instant Motion to Stay. (ECF No. 60) Assuming the JPML will consolidate the cases, Plaintiffs contend a temporary stay pending the decision on the MDL petition is appropriate to avoid the risks of inconsistent decisions and briefing dispositive motions that are unlikely to be addressed by the JPML. Plaintiffs indicate that they will support consolidation of the cases in the MDL.[1] Plaintiffs argue that it is in the interest of judicial economy and efficiency to stay the case because “[i]f the JPML grants the motion to consolidate, the MDL court will decide many of the same issues this Court would be required to decide if a stay is not issued.” (ECF No. 61 at 6) Plaintiffs also assert that no party will be prejudiced by a stay in this case.

         In its opposition (ECF No. 65), BASF argues that, regardless of how the JPML rules, staying the instant case will not create judicial economy but create inefficiencies for the courts and the parties. BASF intends to oppose the consolidation of the cases in the MDL, asserting that the cases are based on different state law claims that will require extensive individual discovery. BASF opposes the use of a master complaint[2] so that even if this case is transferred, BASF argues that the transfer will not moot the pending motion to dismiss, and BASF will be prejudiced by any resulting delay in the briefing of the motion and the resolution of the motion to dismiss.

         In its opposition (ECF No. 71), Monsanto argues that transfer to the MDL is not appropriate and far from certain. Monsanto next argues that even if an MDL were established, a consolidated complaint will not be required. Further, Monsanto will oppose such filing and, Monsanto argues that the filing of a master complaint is generally used as a substantive pleading, requiring the consent of all parties. Next, Monsanto contends that Plaintiffs fail to make a clear case of hardship or inequity by having to respond to Monsanto's motion to dismiss because whether the issues are briefed in an MDL or before this Court, Plaintiffs will have to file a responsive pleading. Finally, Monsanto argues that judicial economy does not support a stay because if the case is transferred, the transferee court will benefit by having the motion to dismiss fully briefed.[3]

         In its opposition (ECF No. 69), Du Pont and Pioneer argue that Plaintiffs will not suffer any hardship or inequity if this action is not stayed. DuPont and Poineer assert that they will be prejudiced if the Court enters a stay because the briefing of the motion to dismiss will be delayed. DuPont and Pioneer also assert that judicial economy favors denying the stay because most likely the only actions to take place prior to the MDL's determination on the transfer and ...


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