Written by: Amie Alexander, JD/MPS Candidate, William H. Bowen School of Law

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri granted plaintiffs’ motion to remand the case of McIvan Jones Farm, Inc. v. Monsanto Co., to Missouri state court because the court determined plaintiffs had not alleged any state-law cause of action that would depend upon a substantial issue of federal law.

Plaintiffs in this action bring state-law counts for strict liability, negligence, and trespass, hoping to represent producers who grew soybeans which were not dicamba-tolerant and were damaged by dicamba herbicide. They specifically allege Monsanto was negligent in providing inadequate product labeling. Plaintiffs point to the 2015 and 2016 seasons in which Monsanto released the dicamba-tolerant seed with no corresponding dicamba herbicide prior to EPA approval. As a result of the delayed herbicide release, some farmers illegally sprayed an old formulation of dicamba which was prone to drift.

Plaintiffs originally filed this action in state court; Monsanto removed the action to federal court. In this order, Judge Stephen Limbaugh, Jr. decided the plaintiffs’ claims did not arise under federal law and therefore the action must be remanded back to state court. Federal jurisdiction only exists if (1) federal law creates the cause of action or (2) the plaintiff’s right to relief depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law.

Monsanto argued that plaintiffs would need to prove that Monsanto violated federal pesticide labeling requirements in order to succeed on their claims, citing Supreme Court dicta which it claimed “held that to recover on a state law pesticide labeling claim, the plaintiff must prove that the pesticide violated the federal pesticide labeling requirements.” The court rejected this argument, pointing out that the dicta was written in the context of preemption. Therefore, plaintiffs would only need to show a violation of federal pesticide law only if Monsanto raised a preemption defense, which it had not.

Monsanto additionally argued that the plaintiffs’ claims were preempted by the Plant Protection Act, granting the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service the power to deregulate genetically modified seed.  The agency did so when it made the dicamba-tolerant seed available for purchase. Because the Supreme Court has not found complete preemption with the Plant Protection Act, the court rejected this argument. It also rejected a similar argument that an administrative petition procedure would be more appropriate.

In rejecting these arguments, the court remanded the case back to state court. The court predicted that Monsanto will raise and argue a preemption defense, but it had not yet done so and thus the plaintiffs’ claims were not completely preempted.