Business owners’ appeal for new Monsanto trial tossed

monsantoOXFORD — A federal judge has denied a motion for a new trial from a north Mississippi company sued by Monsanto Co. for saving seeds from one harvest and planting them the following season.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mills ruled that Mitchell and Eddie Scruggs owe Monsanto Co. $6.3 million damages as a jury found in 2010. Prejudgment interest dating back to 2000 has increased the amount to $8.9 million.

A federal appeals court in Washington in August 2006 ruled that Mitchell Scruggs, Eddie Scruggs and their business violated Monsanto’s licensing requirements and its patent for use of the company’s seeds. The Scruggses operate in Lee County.

Saving Monsanto’s seeds, genetically engineered to kill bugs and resist weed sprays, violates provisions of the company’s contracts with farmers, the company argued.

Over the past several years, Monsanto has filed legal actions across the country over what farmers say is arguably the age-old farming practice of saving seeds.

Monsanto’s patented soybean and cotton seeds have been genetically engineered to resist its Roundup brand herbicide. When Roundup is sprayed on a field, the product will kill the weeds without harming the crop.

Monsanto has a policy that prohibits farmers from saving or reusing the seeds once the crop is grown.

Farmers contend there is no patent on the seeds, which are products of nature.

Monsanto sued the Scruggses in 2001. A federal judge in Mississippi ruled against the Scruggses in 2004. The Scruggses appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington.

After the Washington court’s ruling, the Scruggses appealed to the Supreme Court, which declined without comment to hear the case.

After the case was returned to Mississippi, Mitchell Scruggs sought a new trial, which was rejected by Mills. Scruggs also argued the penalties should be assessed against him company and not him personally.

“After reviewing the evidence submitted by the parties, it is … clear that Mitchell Scruggs, and not some other member of his LLC or the LLC itself, made the decision to sell the infringing seeds,” Mills wrote in his order. “Scruggs felt so strong individually about his right to sell the infringing seeds that he became a leading figure in a national movement advocating his rights in this regard.”

Mills said there was no evidence that anyone other than Scruggs sold the seeds

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