The federal judge overseeing the MDL involving claims over allegedly mishandled genetically modified rice has appointed a special master to assist with settlement talks. In re Genetically Modified Rice Litigation, MDL No.1811.

The order comes as the parties prepare for the process of selecting the bellwether trials currently slated to begin in November, 2009. The parties are to select plaintiff claims from each of 5 affected states for the initial trial pool. The bellwether trial plan approach follows the court’s denial of class certification.

The bulk of plaintiffs are long grain rice producers who allege that defendants developed and tested a genetically modified strain of rice that contaminated the U.S. commercial rice supply. When rice importers banned the importation of U.S. rice, prices dropped and plaintiffs sued. Defendants have argued that such damages are too legally remote and speculative to be recovered.

The court noted that it “is important that the parties continue to explore settlement while preparing the cases for trial or remand to the transferor districts.” Because the MDL court did not have time to address settlement in as an effective and timely manner as is needed, the court proposed appointment of Hon. Steven N. Limbaugh, Sr., who has recently retired from the bench, and is available and willing to serve as a settlement special master for this case.

The court is giving the parties notice and an opportunity to be heard, and the opportunity to suggest alternative candidates for appointment. If no party files objections by Nov. 20, any objections will be waived, and the court will enter an order appointing him as Special Master.

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