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Monsanto Production Supply LLC v. Rosentreter

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

August 9, 2016

MONSANTO PRODUCTION SUPPLY LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
RICK ROSENTRETER and DOUGLAS ROSENTRETER, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          SUE E. MYERSCOUGH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Monsanto Production Supply LLC develops and produces soybean seeds that contain patented biotechnologies (d/e 1 at ¶ 13). Defendant Rick Rosentreter, a farmer, plants and farms soybeans in Central Illinois. In early 2016, Monsanto sued Rosentreter for allegedly using Monsanto’s proprietary seeds without authorization, interfering with Monsanto’s contractual relations, and being unjustly enriched as a result (d/e 1). Monsanto later amended its complaint to add Rosentreter’s brother Doug Rosentreter-whom the Court will refer to in this opinion as simply “Doug”-as a co-defendant.

         From the beginning of the litigation, Rosentreter has obstructed the discovery process, misrepresented facts to Monsanto and to the Court, and disobeyed the Court’s direct discovery orders. Ultimately, Monsanto filed a motion for sanctions asking the Court to enter default judgment against Rosentreter and to permanently enjoin Rosentreter from using any soybean seed containing Monsanto technology. Pursuant to the Court’s oral ruling on July 15, 2016, the motion for sanctions (d/e 45) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The Court will enter default judgment against Rosentreter and a temporary injunction barring Rosentreter from using any soybean seed containing Monsanto technology.

         I. Rosentreter has repeatedly misrepresented facts to the Court and disobeyed the Court’s discovery orders.

         Monsanto sued Rosentreter on February 9, 2016. Immediately after filing the lawsuit, Monsanto asked the Court for leave to serve expedited discovery on Rosentreter and for a protective order preventing spoliation of evidence. On February 10, 2016, the Court authorized Monsanto to serve expedited discovery and ordered Rosentreter not to “destroy[] evidence from soybean fields upon which he harvests soybeans” (d/e 7).

         Once the Court authorized Monsanto to serve expedited discovery on Rosentreter, Monsanto served its First Set of Interrogatories, which required Rosentreter to identify all of the soybean acres he farmed in 2015. Monsanto also served Rosentreter with document production requests and with a request to enter Rosentreter’s land to collect samples from his soil and from his storage units. (Pl.’s Discovery Requests (d/e 4-1).)

         In response to Monsanto’s discovery requests, Rosentreter produced some documents, but his attorney told Monsanto that Rosentreter “did no farming in 2015” and “likewise had utilized no storage facilities.” (Feb. 23, 2016 Spooner email (d/e 15-3).) This assertion contradicted records from the Farm Service Agency-some of which Rosentreter himself had produced-showing that Rosentreter did, in fact, farm in 2015. (Producer Farm Data Report (d/e 45 Ex. 4) (listing land on which Rosentreter farmed soybeans).) Indeed, Rosentreter identified in his production 351 soybean acres, or about 20% of Rosentreter’s 1, 544.06 acres that Monsanto ultimately discovered. (Def.’s Discovery Responses (d/e 15-2); Disclosed and Undisclosed 2015 Soybean Acreage (d/e 45-1 at 4-5).)

         Two weeks later, on February 26, 2016, Monsanto filed a motion to compel and show cause (d/e 14). Monsanto asked the Court to order Rosentreter: (1) to fully respond to Monsanto’s expedited discovery requests; (2) to produce all responsive documents; (3) to allow Monsanto access to Rosentreter’s fields and storage containers; (4) to show cause as to why sanctions should not be imposed; and (5) to pay Monsanto’s costs and fees.

         Regarding Monsanto’s document requests, Rosentreter responded that “there is literally nothing in [Rosentreter’s] possession, custody or control [that] has not already been produced” (d/e 16 at 3). Regarding Monsanto’s access to Rosentreter’s fields and storage units, Rosentreter wrote that he “has neither an ownership nor a leasehold interest” in the property at issue and “cannot fully authorize [Monsanto’s] entrance” (d/e 16 at 4).

         The Court denied Monsanto’s motion on the ground that the motion practice reflected possible confusion or failure of communication between counsel. (See Mar. 3, 2016 text order.)

         Eight days later, on March 11, 2016, Monsanto filed a renewed emergency motion to compel and show cause (d/e 20). Monsanto accused Rosentreter of failing to comply with the Court’s February 10, 2016 order and of making misrepresentations both to the Court and in his discovery responses. “Not only has [Rosentreter] refused to identify all his soybean acres for 2015, ” Monsanto wrote, “he has misrepresented to this Court that he cannot grant access to those fields because, as he represents, neither he nor any entity he is affiliated with has any leasehold rights in those farms. In fact, he did in 2015, and he does for 2016” (d/e 20 at 1-2). Monsanto expressed its concern that the evidence showing whether Rosentreter had used Monsanto’s proprietary seed technology would be lost forever unless relief were granted before the 2016 farming season began. Monsanto asked the Court to order Rosentreter to (1) fully identify his soybean acres for 2015 and (2) provide immediate access to those fields and to the storage bins from his 2015 harvest.

         On March 17, 2016, the Court held a hearing on Monsanto’s renewed motion to compel. Rosentreter did not appear personally, but his attorney Scott Spooner appeared on his behalf. At the hearing, Monsanto’s attorneys summarized why they believed Rosentreter was misrepresenting his farming activities and his ability to allow Monsanto onto the farmland in question to procure samples. Rosentreter’s lawyer responded, “I can tell you this. My client insists … that he did absolutely no farming in calendar year 2015 and that he has no leases for any property in 2015 or 2016.” (Mar. 17, 2016 Tr. (unofficial).)

         The Court concluded that the issue came down to Monsanto’s allegation that Rosentreter had farmed the land in question versus Rosentreter’s flat denial. The Court scheduled a contempt hearing for the following week and ordered Rosentreter to bring witnesses who would corroborate Rosentreter’s version of events. The Court granted Monsanto’s motion to compel and ordered Rosentreter to allow Monsanto’s counsel access onto all land Rosentreter planted or farmed in 2015; to request immediate access to any of the land Rosentreter could not provide immediate access to; and to notify each landowner that they are not authorized to destroy or remove any evidence from their soybean fields or storage containers before Monsanto could sample and inspect them. (See Mar. 17, 2016 Order, d/e 27; Mar. 17, 2016 Tr. (unofficial) (The Court: “[M]y order is he’s to allow these gentlemen on the property. … And if he doesn’t do it by Monday then he better be here with proof why he shouldn’t be held in contempt of Court …. That would have to be the owners of the land.”).)

         At the contempt hearing on March 21, 2016, Rosentreter appeared and testified, although he brought no witnesses to corroborate his version of events as the Court had ordered. On the stand, Rosentreter reiterated his claim that he did not farm in 2015 and that he could no longer provide access to any of the land he used to farm. (Mar. 21, 2016 Tr. (d/e 41) at 18:3-19:11; 27:19-29:23.) Rosentreter further ...


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