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Attorney Doug Nill: Against All Odds

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Minneapolis, MNThere's little doubt that chemical maker BASF hoped that attorney Doug Nill and his class action suit--on behalf of hundreds of American farmers--would just shrivel up and die. The corporate giant hired a crew of lawyers and sprayed courtrooms from Minnesota to Washington D.C. with a cloud of motions for more than a decade.

"They had squadrons of lawyers," says Nill, "They tried to bury us in documents. They had a scorched earth tactic."

Six days a week at his office in Minneapolis, Nill followed the paper trail, subpoenaed more witnesses, and reworked the arguments again and again, until the case was won. In the end, it was BASF that wilted. The court ordered the Germany based multi-national to cough up $62 million including interest for fraudulent marketing.

"I had my entire career riding on this case," says Nill, "It's been a life changing, career changing event."

It will be a windfall for thousands of farmers in the Midwest. Several will receive payouts of more than $450,000. Nill gets a good payday too, but the case was about more than money. On days when the going was tough, moral outrage kept him going.

"This wasn't just pushing the boundaries by someone who wanted to become a vice president. This was a very carefully calculated deceit that emanated from the highest levels in Germany," says Nill.

He started the case back in 1997. Led by 11 Midwest farmers, the suit claimed that BASF gave its Poast herbicide a different name and sold it to farmers for more money. In other words, the herbicide was all the same, only the packaging and prices were different.

"These people sat around and discussed how they could pull off this fraud," says Nill. "They discussed whether they could control farmers in terms of how they priced their herbicides and what would happen if they got caught."

Litigating against a big multi-national company like BASF with annual revenues in of over $50 billion was like riding the tale of a dragon for Nill. On days when appeal court decisions were due, Nill would sit at his computer waiting for the decision to be posted online. "It was a euphoric moment when you won one of those," says Nill, "then a week later, the other side would run a barrage of motions and that was depressing."

"When I look back, it was such a long journey, there were so many highs and so many lows," he says reflectively. "It is like you are limping across the finish line, and you almost forgot why you started the race. I think it takes a bit of time to unwind."

It is not very often that a lawyer takes a class action case like this one from start to finish. People keep telling him to write a book, but Nill believes he has already spent too much time sitting at a desk, thinking and writing about BASF. It maybe time to move on to something else.

Nil was born and raised on a ranch in North Dakota on the edge of the Missouri Plateau. He has an undergrad degree in agricultural economics and a high regard for what it takes to make a living as an American farmer. At harvest time, he still enjoys going out to the family farm and riding the combine. Over the years, he has earned a reputation as something of an expert in the practice of farm law.

There are few interesting issues out there that Nill is aware of that might make good class action work. Right now, he is taking a break and a bow.

Doug Nill represents farmers in injury and business disputes, consumer class actions, and appellate practice. Licensed to practice law in Minnesota, Nill associates with experienced lawyers throughout the United States to help people across the country. Nill was recognized in 2001 and 2002 by a national farm advocacy group as one of the nation's best attorneys representing farmers in complex business litigation.

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