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Kuiper v. American Cyanamid Co.

December 5, 1997




Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

No. 93-C-566--Rudolph T. Randa, Judge.

Before Cudahy, Flaum, and Diane P. Wood, Circuit Judges.

Flaum, Circuit Judge.

Argued September 4, 1997

Decided December 5, 1997

This appeal requires us to decide whether the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), 7 U.S.C. secs. 136-136y, preempts state law claims alleging that a pesticide manufacturer was negligent and made false representations in marketing and promoting its product. The district court entered summary judgment for the defendant manufacturer, holding that FIFRA preempted the plaintiffs' claims and, in the alternative, that the state statute of limitations barred plaintiffs' statutory claim. We affirm.

I. Background

In the mid-1980s, American Cyanamid Corporation manufactured and marketed an herbicide named "SCEPTER." Pursuant to FIFRA, American Cyanamid registered SCEPTER with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and EPA approved the SCEPTER label submitted by American Cyanamid. *fn1 The label contained a section on "Rotational Crop Restrictions" that told farmers how soon they could plant various crops on fields that had been treated with SCEPTER. Of particular significance for this case, the label stated that corn could be planted eleven months after the last application of SCEPTER. *fn2

Charles H. Kuiper, Sr., Mae Kuiper, and Charles A. Kuiper, Jr., are farmers in Racine, Wisconsin. In 1987 and 1988, the Kuipers used SCEPTER to control weeds in their soybean fields. The Kuipers bought the herbicide from Donald Spangenberg, an independent dealer in agricultural supplies. Spangenberg told the Kuipers that SCEPTER was safe for follow corn. *fn3

The Kuipers applied SCEPTER to their soybean fields in 1987 and planted corn on those same fields following the soybean harvest. Although they had waited eleven months after the last application of SCEPTER to plant their follow corn, as directed by the label, the 1988 corn crop did not do well. At the Kuipers' request, Donald Spangenberg came to inspect the fields, and the Kuipers also discussed the problem with an American Cyanamid representative.

In 1988, the Kuipers again applied SCEPTER to their soybean fields, and again their follow corn (the 1989 corn crop) grew poorly. The Kuipers complained to American Cyanamid for the second time, and the company admitted that it had received complaints from other farmers about damage to follow corn caused by SCEPTER. In December 1989, the Kuipers submitted a damage claim to American Cyanamid asserting their belief that SCEPTER had stunted their 1988 corn crop. In 1990, the Kuipers and American Cyanamid negotiated a settlement agreement. Although the parties discussed both the 1988 and 1989 crops, the final settlement compensated the Kuipers only for damages to the 1989 crop. The Kuipers continued to press American Cyanamid to pay damages for the 1988 crop until American Cyanamid, in a letter dated April 10, 1990, expressly denied them any further compensation.

The Kuipers finally filed suit against American Cyanamid in Wisconsin state court on April 30, 1993. Their complaint included a common-law negligence claim, a statutory fraudulent representation claim, and a request for punitive damages. American Cyanamid removed the case to the district court on diversity grounds, and the court entered summary judgment in favor of the defendant. The district court held that FIFRA preempts the Kuipers' claims and, in the alternative, that the three-year limitations period for statutory fraudulent representation claims had expired.

We review de novo a district court's decision to grant summary judgment, construing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Kuipers and drawing all reasonable inferences in their favor. Maier v. Lucent Technologies, Inc., 120 F.3d 730, 734 (7th Cir. 1997).

II. Statute of Limitations

We start with the statute of limitations issue. We agree with the district court that the Kuipers filed their statutory claim for fraudulent representation after the three-year limitations period had expired. Wis. Stat. sec. 100.18(11)(b). The allegedly fraudulent representation in this case occurred in 1987, when the Kuipers first purchased SCEPTER after being told it was safe for follow corn. However, the Kuipers did not file suit until April 30, 1993. The Kuipers contend that during the limitations period they did not have knowledge of American Cyanamid's wrongdoing sufficient to support a claim for fraudulent representation. They assert that American Cyanamid knew that SCEPTER was damaging follow crops throughout Wisconsin, but the company concealed this fact by resisting the discovery process in a trial involving similar claims to those asserted by the Kuipers in this case. See Gorton v. American Cyanamid Co., 533 N.W.2d 746 (Wis. 1995) (affirming American Cyanamid's liability to a Wisconsin farmer after SCEPTER damaged the farmer's follow corn), cert. denied, 116 S. Ct. 753 (1996). Had American Cyanamid's guilty knowledge come to light earlier, the Kuipers argue, they would have been able to sue in a timely fashion. The Kuipers ask that we apply equitable principles to extend the limitations period in this case.

The record demonstrates, however, that the Kuipers had sufficient information to file suit within the limitations period, independent of any information discovered during the Gorton litigation. The Kuipers read the rotational crop restrictions on the label; they heard Donald Spangenberg's statement that SCEPTER is safe for follow corn; they observed damage suffered by their corn in two successive years following application of SCEPTER; and they even went so far as to approach American Cyanamid about SCEPTER's possible role in damaging their corn. The Kuipers suspected SCEPTER damage at least as early as December 1989, when they filed a claim with American Cyanamid for compensation for their 1988 crop. They also discussed the 1988 crop as part of their 1990 settlement negotiations, and they continued to press for reimbursement for the 1988 crop until they received American Cyanamid's letter, dated April 10, 1990, refusing their requests for ...

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