Judge Denies Late Motion in HFCS/Sugar Litigation

corn refinersA federal judge has denied a motion from high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) manufacturers, dealing them a blow in a lawsuit over marketing the sweetener as being the equivalent of sugar.

According to U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo B. Marshall, a counterclaim filed by HFCS manufacturers was “unduly delayed” and would handicap the plaintiffs by adding litigation costs and further delaying the trial at the eleventh hour.

The original suit, Western Sugar Cooperative v. Archer-Daniels-Midland, Co., was filed in Los Angeles in April 2011 by sugar farmers who want to stop corn processors from advertising HFSC as equivalent to sugar made from sugar cane and sugar beets.

In May 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration rejected the efforts of the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) to rename the sweetener as “corn sugar.”

On Monday, Judge Marshall denied the counterclaims of the HFCS manufacturers, who wanted to sue The Sugar Association, a plaintiff in the case, for publishing editorial commentaries that distinguish HFCS from sugar.

Judge Marshall wrote that the defendant’s request for nine new counterclaims and two new state law claims were presented at too late a juncture in the case.

“Defendants have not shown their new claims are based on facts learned so recently in discovery as to justify filing the instant motion so late in the fact discovery period,” Marshall wrote.

CRA president John Bode wrote in a statement that his association is disappointed by the ruling and will at least continue with its original counterclaim against The Sugar Association.

“We have alleged and expect to prove at trial that The Sugar Association has purposely misled the public to create false health concerns and fear about high fructose corn syrup — all for the purpose of increasing sugar’s market share,” Bode wrote.

A release from The Sugar Association is below:

LOS ANGELES — U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo B. Marshall today denied a request by the agribusiness giants Archer-Daniels-Midland, Cargill and other manufacturers of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), to pursue claims against various farmers’ cooperatives and other sugar producers.
The underlying lawsuit, Western Sugar Cooperative v. Archer-Daniels-Midland, Co., was filed in Los Angeles in April 2011 by a group of sugar farmers to stop the corn processors’ advertising HFCS as equivalent to the common table sugar extracted from sugar cane and sugar beets. In a national television and print marketing campaign, the corn processors and their trade group, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), had communicated to industrial customers and consumers that HFCS is “nutritionally the same as table sugar,” “natural” and really just “corn sugar,” claiming that because “sugar is sugar” “your body can’t tell the difference.” In a related proceeding, the FDA rejected efforts by the CRA to allow the name “corn sugar” as an alternative to HFCS on ingredient labels.
In September 2012, the corn processors filed a counterclaim accusing The Sugar Association, one of the plaintiffs, of having published editorial statements and third-party commentaries distinguishing HFCS from sugar based on scientific research. Then, on May 23, 2014, the corn processors sought to amend that counterclaim by suing all of the plaintiffs for these activities and seeking punitive damages under Illinois law.
In an 11 page written order, Judge Marshall explained that although the corn processors had enjoyed 18 months of discovery and depositions, they “unduly delayed” seeking to make the amendments. Judge Marshall also ruled that allowing the amendments “would prejudice Plaintiffs by imposing higher litigation costs on them and further delaying trial.” She concluded her opinion by summarizing that the motion would be denied “because Defendants unduly delayed in seeking leave to amend and Plaintiffs would be prejudiced were the Court to grant Defendants’ eleventh hour request.”
Adam Fox, a partner of Squire Patton Boggs, and co-lead counsel for the sugar farmers and other plaintiffs welcomed the ruling. “It was the right result, and now paves the way for us to prepare for trial without further delays or distractions.”
Judge Marshall had ruled on an earlier motion that the plaintiff sugar farmers had presented evidence demonstrating “a reasonable probability of success on their argument that the statements (made by the corn processors) are false.”
Federal Court Case number CV 11-3473 CBM (AJW). A copy of the ruling can be found here.