By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Tupelo farmer and ag supply businessman Mitchell Scruggs does not have to pay triple damages to Monsanto Corp. for intentionally reselling hybrid seeds more than a decade ago, a federal judge ruled Friday.
In a 22-page finding, Chief District Judge Michael P. Mills asked for more legal briefs on a separate issue relating to errors during a 2010 trial, presided over by Judge W. Allen Pepper. The Greenville jury agreed Scruggs, his brother Eddie and their farming companies willfully and illegally sold the seeds chiefly gained from their own crops of soybeans and cotton.
The jury awarded Monsanto an $8.7 million judgment, but Monsanto wanted it tripled and also their attorneys’ fees paid by Scruggs because of his “willfulness” in disregarding their seed patents. The ag giant wanted nearly $27 million for its verdict.
“The court does not believe that Scruggs should be spared the legal consequences of his actions in this case,” Mills wrote in his 22-page ruling. “But it likewise does not believe that he should be subjected to the harshest and most punitive sanctions which patent law can impose.”
Friday, Mills said he believed that the Scruggses knew what they were doing when they resold the seeds, but that at the time, the U.S. Supreme Court had not yet decided that re-selling seeds was wrong. Doubtless, Mills noted, the issue would be much clearer today.
A few weeks ago, Scruggs’ attorneys – including Jim Waide of Tupelo and James Robertson of Jackson – told Mills at a hearing on the case that they believed some technical errors during the lengthy trial were reason enough for review. Mills said he’ll consider additional legal briefs on the matter.
Mills inherited the case after Pepper’s sudden death in January and said in his ruling that he considered himself at a bit of a loss because he had not heard the trial evidence or knew the issues as Pepper had.
The judge denied Scruggs’ motion for a new trial.
Whether Monsanto will appeal the judgment-fees decision wasn’t clear late Friday.
Mills said he’ll give attorneys two more weeks to present the remaining legal arguments.