As summer turns to fall, the Maine landscape is beautiful to behold. Lush forests stretch as far as the eye can see in a tapestry of green, yellow and crimson-colored leaves. Every few miles along a narrow roadway, restored wooden barns adjoin modest homes set on tidy acres where farm families coax food from the soil and tend to livestock.
I was fortunate to visit this northeastern farm state recently, spending time at the “Common Ground Country Fair” in Unity, Maine. Only about 2,000 people live in the tiny town, but an estimated 57,000 people jammed the single-lane roads to swarm this year’s three-day event in late September.
The fair was part celebration and part education – a festival of first-hand knowledge about how to produce food in ways that focus on enhancing, not endangering, human and environmental health. Young and old gathered in yellow-and-white striped tents to discuss such topics as the marketing of organic lowbush wild blueberries, how to develop “micro-dairies,” and science that shows healthy, chemical-free soils can better sequester carbon from the atmosphere as a mitigant to the climate crisis.
In a jangly parade running through the middle of the fairgrounds, children and adults dressed as honeybees, fresh vegetables, sunflowers and trees and carried colorful signs calling for protections from the threats posed by industrial agriculture. One small child carried a sign that read “No sprays on me.”
The messages carried through that parade and across the fairgrounds speak to the fact that alongside this jovial festival of food and farming are mounting concerns about a lack of leadership in Washington and federal promotion of the permissive use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in farming; as well as the monoculture cropping practices that have become a mainstay of U.S. agriculture and are stripping away essential biodiversity.
This week, a group of state leaders cut the ribbon on a project to help address those concerns by promoting sustainable solutions in Maine that they intend as an example for the rest of the nation to follow.
The Maine Harvest Federal Credit Union opened its doors Oct. 8 as the first U.S. member-owned financial institution focused solely on funding small farms and food businesses that engage in sustainable agricultural practices. The credit union aims to provide financing for endeavors that improve access to fresh, locally grown food and are environmentally protective. With roughly 40 percent of the state’s 7,600 farms run by men and women under the age of 40, there is an appetite for progressive strategies to improve food production systems, supporters say.
“We are not there to finance commodity agriculture. We are organized to serve a re-vitalized and re-localized food economy,” co-founder Sam May told me. “The modern food system has it all wrong. It is killing the planet, the soil, our personal health and putting our civilization at risk. We are doing what we are doing in Maine because it needs to be done and we can do it.”
The credit union founders, former veterans of Wall Street, have raised $2.4 million in capital that includes a $300,000 conservation innovation grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The founders have garnered the support of the state’s U.S. congressional delegation, including Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine, emphasized the need for more of this type of support: “Our food economy is growing rapidly and financial support will be a big part of that continued growth going forward. I’m so pleased to see this first-in-the-country credit union that will support the unique needs of small farms and food businesses. I hope other states take note and help to close the gap between farmers and their financial institutions,” she said in a statement.
The work is not just admirable but urgent. In addition to scientific reports linking industrial agriculture and agrochemicals to water pollution, sterile soils, human diseases and reproductive problems, recently released research shows additional links to sharp declines in important bird and insect populations.
But rather than heed the warnings, the Trump Administration is racing to rollback regulatory protections at a rapid rate.
It seems fitting that it was here in Maine, more than 50 years ago, where author Rachel Carson kept a cottage and would sometimes retreat as she wrote about the dire consequences of a world awash in chemicals, a world where nature is sacrificed, and the sounds of song birds going silent.
To visit a country fair in the fall in Maine is to see what that long-ago call for action from Carson looks like in modern form. These are people who recognize that they must protect and build upon systems that sustain and nourish, not systems that destroy. These are people who hope their children and grandchildren will always be able to behold a landscape of lush forests and rich farmland as far as the eye can see.
It’s a lesson the rest of the country needs to learn. There is no time to waste.
Another St. Louis Roundup Cancer Trial Officially Postponed Until 2020
A trial set to start next week over claims that Monsanto’s Roundup weed killers cause cancer has been postponed until at least next year, according to a judge’s ruling on Friday.
The trial would have been the first of its kind to take place in the St. Louis area, Monsanto’s hometown before the company sold to German pharmaceutical giant Bayer AG last year.
Two previously scheduled trials in St. Louis area were also postponed until next year. The status of the trial that had been due to start next week – Walter Winston, et al v. Monsanto – had already been in doubt for weeks but the delay was made official Friday:
“Whereas the parties in the above-captioned case have requested that the Court take the trial in the above-captioned case off calendar, it is hereby ORDERED that the trial, scheduled for october 15, 2019 will not begin as scheduled. Cause set for status on Feb 10, 2020 @ 9:00 a.m. SO ORDERED: JUDGE MICHAEL MULLEN.”
The Winston case has been unraveling a thread at a time over issues of venue. The case was filed in St. Louis City Court but last month Mullen, who is a St. Louis Circuit Court Judge, transferred all plaintiffs except Winston from the city court to St. Louis County. Lawyers for the plaintiffs then sought to have the trial take place in the county court on Oct. 15, a position Monsanto opposed. Last week, a judge in the county ruled against the plaintiffs bid for that trial date.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs are now asking for a trial date later this year or early next year. With the transfer of the 13 plaintiffs out of the Winston case in St. Louis City, the case in St. Louis County is now titled Kyle Chaplick, et al v. Monsanto.
“Monsanto’s repeated attempts to avoid the trial… should be rejected, and the case should be set for trial in 2019 or as soon thereafter as is practicable,”‘ the plaintiffs’ attorneys stated in a motion filed Oct. 3.
The 14 plaintiffs who were in the Winston case are among more than 18,000 people in the United States suing Monsanto claiming that exposure to the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto hid the risks associated with its weed killers.
Three juries in three trials over similar claims have found in favor of plaintiffs and ordered large punitive damages against Monsanto.
Bayer and lawyers for the plaintiffs are engaged in discussions about a potential global settlement of the litigation. Bayer has been dealing with a depressed share price and disgruntled investors ever since the Aug. 10, 2018 jury decision in the first Roundup cancer trial. The jury awarded California groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson $289 million and found that Monsanto acted with malice in suppressing information about the risks of its herbicides.
March 18, 2019: Jurors Want to Hear From Plaintiff Again
Today marks the beginning of the fourth week of the Hardeman V. Monsanto Roundup cancer trial, and jurors were still deliberating over the sole question that they must answer to close out the first phase of the trial and potentially move into the second phase.
The six jurors let Judge Vince Chhabria know on Friday that as they deliberate they want to have plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s testimony read back to them. Chhabria said that would take place first thing Monday morning.
At Monsanto’s request, the trial has been divided into two phases. The first phase deals only with the question of whether or not jurors find that Hardeman’s exposure to Roundup was a “substantial factor” in causing his non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
If the jurors unanimously answer yes to that question the trial moves into a second phase in which Hardeman’s attorneys will put on evidence aimed at showing that Monsanto knew of the cancer risks of Roundup but actively worked to hide that information from consumers, in part by manipulating the scientific record.
If the trial does go to the second phase, the plaintiff will lack one key expert witness – Charles Benbrook – after the judge ruled that he would sharply limit Benbrook’s testimony regarding Monsanto’s corporate conduct.
Hardeman’s lead counsel Aimee Wagstaff and her co-counsel Jennifer Moore plan to spend the day in the courthouse Monday as the jury deliberates after again raising the ire of Judge Chhabria. Chhabria was annoyed Friday that the lawyers took longer than he expected to get to the courthouse after they were notified that all parties must convene to address the jurors’ request to hear Hardeman’s testimony again.
Chhabria sanctioned Wagstaff the first week of the trial for what he called “several acts of misconduct during her opening statement.” One of her transgressions, according to Chhabria, was spending too much time telling jurors about her client and his cancer diagnosis.
March 15, 2019: Google Ads Raise Concerns About Geofencing
(UPDATE 3:30 pm Pacific time- Jurors retiring for the day after failing again to reach a verdict. Testimony from plaintiff Edwin Hardeman to be read back to jurors Monday morning at their request. Judge Chhabria remains irritated with plaintiff’s attorneys, annoyed at the time it took them to arrive at court Friday afternoon.)
Jurors were back in court today resuming deliberations after a day off on Thursday. There is but one question they must answer: “Did Mr. Hardeman prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his exposure to Roundup was a substantial factor in causing his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?”
The judge admonished the jurors that if they pondered that question on their day off they should not seek out information about the safety of Roundup or read news articles or scientific studies about the matter. They should confine themselves to consideration only of evidence presented at trial.
Interestingly, yesterday in the San Francisco area google ads were popping up on smart phones and computers promoting the safety of Roundup. One site in particular – Weeding Wisely – was coming in at the top of some Google sites, offering such headlines as “Fear of ‘chemicals’ results from misunderstanding” and “Look at the science, not scare tactics, of glyphosate herbicide.” Also this one – “Weed Killer Hype Lacks Scientific Support.”
The google ad renewed fears by some that Monsanto and Bayer may be engaging in geofencing, a term used to describe a tactic for delivering specific messaging to individuals within specific geographic areas.
Last month Hardeman attorney Jennifer Moore alerted Judge Chhabria to fears held by Hardeman’s legal team that Monsanto might have engaged in geofencing before and would do so again to try to influence jurors. Moore told the judge they were considering “whether we were going to file a temporary restraining order to prohibit Monsanto from any kind of geofencing or targeting jurors through social media or pay-per-click ads. And so I would just ask that that not be done. We’re not doing it on our side, but I just don’t want any targeting of jurors, their social media or Internet means.”
Chhabria replied “Isn’t it, like — doesn’t it go without saying that it would be totally inappropriate? Obviously nobody on either side — nobody within a hundred miles of either side may attempt to target any juror or prospective juror with any sort of messaging.”
Geofencing is a popular advertising technique that delivers specific messaging/content to anyone within a specific geographic area designated by the company or group paying for the ad. The area can be very small, a mile radius around a specific address, for instance. Or it can be much larger. Anyone within that designated area using an app on a smart phone – such as a weather app or a game – would then be delivered the ad.
Whether or not Monsanto did or would use the tactic to try to influence jurors would be almost impossible to prove. Monsanto attorney Brian Stekloff responded to the concerns raised last month and the judge’s warning about geofencing by saying “I understand that they may have allegations, but I’m not accepting those allegations….. of course we will abide by that…”
The placement of google ads for certain search terms does not necessarily mean anyone was targeting jurors with geofencing. And it’s worth noting that google ad buys have been – and remain – a popular strategy employed by plaintiffs’ attorneys seeking new Roundup clients.
March 14, 2019: Trial & Jury Day Off
Jurors have the day off today but the lawyers do not. Chhabria is holding a hearing with attorneys for both sides at 12:30 pm Pacific time to discuss the scope of the second phase, if a second phase is held.
Among the issues to be discussed, plaintiff’s lawyers are renewing their request to be able to present testimony about Monsanto’s efforts to discredit French scientist Gilles-Éric Séralini after publication of his 2012 study findings about rats fed water dosed with Roundup. Internal Monsanto records show a coordinated effort to get the Seralini paper retracted, including this email string.
Monsanto employees apparently were so proud of what they called a “multimedia event that was designed for maximum negative publicity” against Seralini that they designated it as an “achievement” worth recognition.
Evidence demonstrates “that the Séralini story is central to Monsanto’s failure to test as well as its efforts to manipulate public opinion,” Edwin Hardeman’s attorneys argue. As well, they say in their court filing, “the testimony reveals that Monsanto responded to the study by attempting to undermine and discredit Dr. Séralini, which is further evidence “that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer,” but “[focuses] instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue.” ”
“The Séralini Story is Relevant to Monsanto’s Efforts to Undermine Scientists Raising Concerns about Glyphosate,” Hardeman’s attorneys argue.
Lawyers for Hardeman want expert witness Charles Benbrook to be allowed to testify about this example of Monsanto’s corporate conduct “post-use,” meaning actions by Monsanto that took place after Hardeman stopped using Roundup.
Judge Chhabria earlier ruled that the evidence regarding efforts to discredit Seralini could not be introduced because those efforts took place after Hardeman’s Roundup use ended and so would not have impacted him.
On Wednesday, Chhabria also ruled that evidence of Monsanto’s efforts to discredit the International Agency for Research on Cancer after it classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen would be excluded from a second phase of the trial because it took place after Hardeman’s Roundup use ended.
Even as both sides prepare for a second phase, the lack of a quick jury decision does not bode well for Hardeman. His attorneys were hoping for a quick unanimous decision by the jurors in their favor. Any decision by the jury must be unanimous or the case can be declared a mistrial.
(UPDATE 5:45 p.m. Pacific time – Jury has retired for the evening with no verdict. Deliberations to resume Friday.)
Judge Chhabria instructed lawyers for both sides to be ready to present opening statements for the second phase of the trial today if jurors come back this morning with a verdict. The second phase only occurs, however, if the jurors first find unanimously for plaintiff Edwin Hardeman in the first phase, which dealt solely with the question of causation.
Did Mr. Hardeman prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his exposure to Roundup was a substantial factor in causing his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?
It will take all six jurors to answer yes to that question in order for the trial to continue. If the jurors are split in how they answer the question, the judge has said he would declare a mistrial.
The judge guided the jurors in how to consider that question and how to evaluate the evidence presented to them in a 17-page list of instructions.
The jurors are allowed to request to look at specific exhibits and pieces of evidence but they are not allowed to see transcripts of the previous days of testimony. The judge said that if jurors want to review the testimony of a particular witness they can ask to have that witness’s testimony, or a portion of that witness’s testimony, read back to them but the lawyers and judge would need to be present for that.
If jurors return a verdict in favor of Hardeman on Wednesday afternoon, opening statements for phase two will take place Friday.
Chhabria kept a tight rein on closing arguments Tuesday, prohibiting Hardeman’s lead attorney Aimee Wagstaff from showing a photo of Hardeman and his wife in her closing slide presentation. He told Wagstaff that the photo was “not relevant” and said that he did not “need to hear further argument about that.” When she asked for his rationale, Chhabria simply repeated his belief that it was not relevant.
Monsanto filed a motion for a directed verdict on Tuesday, arguing that Hardeman has presented “insufficient general causation evidence,” and specifically attacked the credibility of pathologist Dennis Weisenburger, one of Hardeman’s expert witnesses. Judge Chhabria denied the motion.
Separately, the upcoming Pilliod V. Monsanto case in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland was looking at a sizable jury pool of more than 200 people. They plan to select 17, with 12 jurors and five alternates. The case may not begin until March 27 or March 28 due to the lengthy jury selection process.
March 12, 2019: Concerns over Judge’s Jury Instructions
(UPDATE, 3 p.m. Pacific Time – Closing arguments are completed. The jury has received instructions for deliberations.)
Closing arguments got underway Tuesday. With the first phase of Hardeman V. Monsanto winding down plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s attorneys issued a strong objection to Judge Vince Chhabria’s plans for instructing the jury about how to consider the issue of causation.
The way Chhabria worded his instructions makes it “impossible” for Hardeman to prevail, attorney Jennifer Moore wrote in a letter to the judge. California law sets for instructions that causation is determined when a substance or action is a “substantial factor” in causing an outcome. But the judge’s instructions would require jurors to find that Roundup was the sole factor that caused Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Moore argued.
Judge Chhabria replied by saying he could not give “the standard California multiple causation instruction” because plaintiff’s attorneys failed to present evidence that Hardeman’s cancer was due to multiple factors. He did say, however, that he could modify the instructions slightly to try to address the concerns. In the final instructionChhabria added wording that said asubstantial factor “does not have to be the only cause of the harm.”
Monsanto has argued that Hardeman’s cancer is not due toexposure to glyphosate-based herbicides but more likely due to the hepatitis C Hardeman had for many years.
This is also an interesting little nugget in the jury instructions:
Meanwhile, in the upcoming Pilliod V. Monsanto case, motion hearings and discussion of hardship claims for prospective jurors begins next week in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland, not far from downtown San Francisco where the Hardeman case may still be underway if it goes to the second phase.
Opening statements in the Pilliod trial could begin March 21 but more likely will take place March 25 or later depending on how long the jury selection process takes.
Monsanto’s legal team on Monday presented testimony from Dr. Alexandra Levine, a hematologist/oncologist with City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center, seeking to convince the jury that exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides was not a cause of Hardeman’s cancer, and that a more likely factor is the hepatitis C Hardeman had for many years. Levine testified that she has seen “many, many,thousands of patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” and she is in factconsidered a specialist in that specific disease.
Judge Chhabria said last week that he would like to see this first phase of the trial wrapped up early this week, meaning the case should be with the jury soon. A verdict requires all six jurors to be unanimous in their finding regarding whether or not Hardeman’s exposure to Roundup “was a substantial factor” in causing his cancer. The judge will define for jurors what that means. (See Friday’s entry for more details.)
If the jury does not unanimously decide either for Hardeman or Monsanto then the case would be a mistrial. Chhabria has also said that if that happens he is considering retrying it in May.
If the jury finds for Hardeman on causation, the trial would quickly move into Phase II using the same jury. And that is where things will really start to get interesting. Hardeman’s attorneys plan to call several Monsanto executives for testimony, including former Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant. Grant spent more than 35 years at the company and was named CEO in 2003. He led the company until its acquisition by Bayer AG last summer.
Additionally, lawyers for Hardeman plan to call Roger McClellan, editor of the scientific journalCritical Reviews in Toxicology(CRT), which published a series of papers in September 2016 that rebuked the finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) finding that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen. The papers purported to be written by independent scientists who found that the weight of evidence showed the weed killer was unlikely to pose any carcinogenic risk to people.
However, internal Monsanto documentsshow that the papers were conceptualized from the outset as a strategy by Monsanto to discredit IARC. One of Monsanto’s top scientists not onlyreviewed the manuscriptsbut had a hand in drafting and editing them, though that was not disclosed by CRT.
Hardeman’s lawyers additionally said they plan to call Doreen Manchester, of Croplife America, the agrochemical industry’s lobbying organization. Manchester’s role at CropLife has been helping “lead federal and state litigation to support pesticide regulatory issues.”
Lawyers for plaintiff Edwin Hardeman rested their case on Friday, giving Monsanto a turn to put on its own witnesses in this first phase of the case.
Judge Chhabria has indicated he would like to see the first phase of the trial wrapped up by early next week, and he has ordered attorneys for both sides to be ready to discuss and debate two proposed sets of instructions for him to give the jury for deliberations regarding the definition of “causation.”
For Hardeman’s case to be allowed to proceed to a Phase 2 in which damages could be awarded, the group of six jurors must be unanimous in finding that Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma, so the judge’s instructions about how the element of causation is defined is a critical point.
The judge’s first option reads as follows: “To prevail on the question of medical causation, Mr. Hardeman must prove by apreponderance of the evidence that Roundup was a substantial factor in causing his nonHodgkin’s lymphoma. A substantial factor is a factor that a reasonable person would consider tohave contributed to the harm. It must be more than a remote or trivial factor.If you conclude that Mr. Hardeman has proven that his exposure to Roundup was asubstantial factor in causing his NHL, then you should find for Mr. Hardeman even if you believethat other risk factors were substantial factors as well.”
The judge’s second option has the same first three lines as the first option but then adds this: “Conduct is not a substantial factor in causing harm if the same harm would have occurredwithout that conduct.”
Option 2 also changes the last line of the instruction to say: “However, if you conclude that Mr. Hardeman has proven that his exposureto Roundup was sufficient on its own to cause his NHL, then you should find for Mr. Hardemaneven if you believe that other risk factors were also sufficient to cause his NHL.”
A big part of Monsanto’s defense is to suggest that other factors could be the cause of Hardeman’s cancer, including a struggle with hepatitis C. Hardeman’s team has said that he was cured in 2006 of hepatitis C but Monsanto’s team argues that cell damage from the hepatitis was a potential contributor to his cancer.
Monsanto expert witness Dr. Daniel Arber in his pre-trial report wrote that Hardeman has many risk factors for NHL, and said: “There is no indication that Roundup played any role in the development of his NHL, and there are no pathological features to suggest a cause of his lymphoma.”
Judge Chhabria has ruledthat Arber cannot testify that the hepatitis C caused Hardeman’s NHL but ruled Thursdaythat Arber can explain that Hardeman’s lengthy exposure to hepatitis C left him at riskof developing NHL even after his virus had been successfully treated.
Judge Vince Chhabria issued a stinging response to Monsanto’s motion for summary judgment on Thursday, stating in his order that there was plenty of evidence that the company’s glyphosate herbicides – namely Roundup – could have caused plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s cancer.
“To take just one example,” the judge wrote, “the De Roos (2003) studysupports a conclusion that glyphosate is a risk factor for NHL, yet Monsanto fails to mention it inits motion. Monsanto cannot prevail on a motion for summary judgment by simply ignoring largeswaths of evidence.”
He also said there was “sufficient evidence” to support a punitive damages award against Monsanto if the jury finds for Hardeman.
“The plaintiffs have presented a great deal of evidence that Monsanto has not taken aresponsible, objective approach to the safety of its product,” Judge Chhabria stated in his ruling.
The judge concluded: “Although the evidence that Roundup causescancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude thatMonsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine andlegitimate concerns about the issue.”
March 7, 2019: No Trial Today, But a Story About the Last Trial
The historic win last summer of California groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson over Monsanto and its new owner Bayer made news around the world and made some of Johnson’s attorneys virtual celebrities in legal circles, garnering them awards and international notoriety.
But behind the scenes of victory, the aftermath of the first-ever Roundup cancer trial has plunged Johnson’s attorneys into a bitter legal battle of their own, with allegations swirling of self-dealing, drug use and “disloyal and erratic conduct.”
In a lawsuit and counterclaim filed in Orange County Circuit Court in Virginia, The Miller Law Firm accuses attorney Tim Litzenburg, someone who has portrayed himself as Johnson’s lead trial attorney, of stealing the firm’s confidential client information with the intent of setting up his own separate law firm, even as he was failing to show up for preparatory meetings for Johnson’s trial. The complaint also alleges that Litzenburg admitted to using drugs during the Johnson trial.
“Multiple members of Mr. Johnson’s trial team observed Mr. Litzenburg acting disoriented and frantic at court,” the complaint states. “When he was permitted to argue a motion before the Court…. his delivery was jumbled and incoherent. Members of the trial team were concerned that Mr. Litzenburg was actively under the influence of drugs in the courtroom…”
The trial itself ended up being handled by other attorneys and Litzenburg was not present for the close of the trial nor the day that the jury returned a $289 million verdict against Monsanto.
Roughly one month later, on September 11, 2018, The Miller Firm terminated Litzenburg’s employment, the lawsuit states.
Litzenburg, who is now affiliated with the firm of Kincheloe, Litzenburg & Pendleton, did not respond to a request for comment, other than to say it was “an unfortunate distraction” from his work at his new firm. In past comments Litzenburg described his separation from The Miller Firm as due to a misunderstanding with Mike Miller, one of the firm’s founders.
The following are excerpts from the litigation:
Litzenburg asserts that The Miller Firm’s claims against him are “salacious and often purely fictional” and are due to The Miller Firm’s fears that they would lose Roundup clients to Litzenburg’s new firm. He claims he was offered $1 million by firm founder Mike Miller to walk away from his Roundup clients but declined the offer.
Expert witness for the plaintiff Dr. Dennis Weisenburger was being cross examined Wednesday by Monsanto attorneys after extensive direct testimony for cancer victim Edwin Hardeman. Hardeman’s attorneys said they were nearing the end of the first phase of presenting their case.
Weisenburger, a pathologist specializing in studying the causes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, testified Tuesday for more than four hours, walking jurors through scientific evidence he said shows Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide is a “substantial cause” of cancer in people who are exposed. He followed testimony by Hardeman, who spoke for just less than an hour under direct examination about his use of Roundup for decades before his cancer diagnosis in 2016.
The Guardian recapped Hardeman’s testimonyin which he said thathe sprayed Roundup once a month for three to four hours at a time around his property and sometimes felt like chemical mist blowing onto his skin.
Plaintiff’s attorneys expected to rest their case today but Weisenburger’s testimony ran so long that they now plan to rest the case when court resumes on Friday. No proceedings are scheduled for Thursday.
Separately, lawyers gathered in nearby Alameda County Superior Court for a “Sargon” hearing ahead of the March 18 start of Pilliod V. Monsanto. The Pilliod case will be the third to go to trial challenging Monsanto and its new owner Bayer over alleged carcinogenicity of Roundup products. See Pilliod case documents at this link.
March 5, 2019: Hardeman to Testify, Sick Juror or Not
After a break in testimony Monday due to a sick juror, cancer victim Edwin Hardeman is slated to take the stand today in the ongoing Roundup cancer trial in federal court in San Francisco. His testimony is expected to take less than an hour.
Judge Chhabria indicated the trial will proceed today without the woman juror if she remains ill. Only six jurors are required for the case to move forward and currently there are seven.
For Hardeman’s direct examination, his attorneys plan to bring in to court a 2-gallon, pump-up sprayer to demonstrate how he applied Roundup to his property for years; how his repeated exposure actually occurred. Monsanto attorneys on Monday sought to nix the sprayer demonstration plan, arguing that it would “invite the jury to make anysort of speculation about how the use of the sprayer could haveinfluenced exposure…” but Chhabria sided with Hardeman’s lawyers, saying he would allow a brief demonstration with the sprayer. He even made a bit of a joke:
THE COURT: I mean, one helpful bit of guidance I canprovide now is that the Plaintiffs are not allowed to spray youwith the sprayer. MS. MATTHEWS (Monsanto attorney): Okay. THE COURT: And they are definitely not allowed tospray me with the sprayer.
In another move applauded by Hardeman’s legal team, Chhabria said Monday that testimony about the “Parry report” can be presented to jurors. Monsanto objected but the judge agreed with plaintiff’s counsel that “the door has been opened to the Parry report” by Monsanto’s efforts to contest evidence of genotoxicity with glyphosate herbicides. Dr. James Parry was a consultant hired by Monsanto in the 1990s to weigh in on genotoxicity concerns being raised at the time by outside scientists. Parry’s report recommended that Monsanto do additional studies to “clarify the potential genotoxic activity” of glyphosate.
THE COURT: Okay. Well, Monsanto has a report from a doctor that it hired that — that raised concerns about the genotoxicity of glyphosate.So it seems to me that you are — you have already saidsomething to the jury — even before we get to your second point, you have already said something to the jury that iscontradicted to a degree by an internal Monsanto document. Andso why shouldn’t they be able to cast doubt on Monsanto’sassertion to the jury that genotox doesn’t matter byestablishing that Monsanto hired a doctor to — or hired an expert to look at the issue of genotoxicity in the late ’90sand the expert raised concerns about genotoxicity? … I mean, Monsanto itself investigated genotox –hired somebody to investigate genotox, and that personconcluded that genotox — that it’s possibly genotoxic.
After Hardeman’s testimony, next up with be expert witness Dennis Weisenburger, professor of the Pathology Department of the City of Hope Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
March 4, 2019: Cancer Victim to Take the Stand (Not.)
Plaintiff Edwin Hardeman was scheduled to take the stand today along with expert witness Dennis Weisenburger, professor of the Pathology Department of the City of Hope Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
But one juror apparently is too ill to endure the long trial day so testimony is being postponed.
Weisenburger, who specializes in the study of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), was a key witness for the general pool of plaintiffs a year ago when he testified before Judge Vince Chhabria as the judge weighed then whether or not to let the mass of Roundup cancer claims move forward. Weisenburger has published over 50 papers in peer-reviewed journals about the causes of NHL.
Before news of the trial delay, plaintiffs had expected to rest their case on Tuesday, with Monsanto’s witnesses taking the stand by Wednesday. The whole first phase of the trial was expected to have been concluded by Friday or Monday, lawyers said.
The case will only move into a second phase if the jurors first agree that Hardeman’s exposure to Roundup was the cause of his non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Hardeman used Roundup from to treat weeds and overgrowth on a 56-acre property he and his wife owned in Sonoma County. He reported using Roundup and/or related Monsanto brands from 1986 to 2012. Hardeman was diagnosed with B-cell NHL in February of 2015.
Without the jury present the judge focused on discussion of several pieces of evidence Hardeman’s attorneys want to introduce in the first phase, arguing that Monsanto “opened the door” to evidence that otherwise was not allowed. See the plaintiff’s discussion of introducing evidence related to a controversial mouse study from the 1980s, and evidence pertaining to genotoxicity concerns raised by a Monsanto consultant, and in contrast,Monsanto’s position on the mouse study and the genotoxicity issue.
People around the world are following the trial proceedings, and the judge’s decision last week to sanction Hardeman’s lead attorney Aimee Wagstaff reportedly triggered a flood of emails from lawyers and other individuals offering support and expressing outrage at the judge’s action.
Here is an interesting tidbit to chew on over the weekend. In light of Judge Vince Chhabria’s unusual handling of the first Roundup cancer lawsuit to come to trial in federal court, (see previous entries for bifurcation and other background) and the vitriol with which he has been addressing plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s legal counsel, many observers have asked – what gives? The bifurcation, his decision to sanction plaintiff’s lead counsel, his threat to dismiss the case entirely, and his repeated comments about how “shaky” the plaintiffs’ evidence is, obviously appear to favor Monsanto’s defense, at least in the early stages of the trial.Could there be some connection between Chhabria and Monsanto?
Chhabria has a pretty stellar background. Born and raised in California, he obtained his law degree in 1998 from theUniversity of California, Berkeley School of Law, graduatingwith honors. He served as law clerkfor two federal judges and for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and worked as an associate for two law firms before joining the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office where he worked from 2005 to 2013. He was nominated by President Obama for the seat he holds now in the summer of 2013.
But interestingly, one of those law firms where Chhabria worked has raised eyebrows.Covington & Burling, LLP, is a well-known defender of a variety of corporate interests, including Monsanto Co. Covington was reportedly instrumental in helping Monsanto defend itself against dairy industry concerns over the company’s synthetic bovine growth hormone supplement, known as rBGH (for recombinant bovine growth hormone) or the brand name Posilac.
Chhabria worked at the firm between 2002-2004, a time period when Monsanto’s legal battle over Posilac was in high gear.The firm was reportedly involved in the issuein part by “sending letters to virtually all U.S. dairy processors, warning that they faced potential legal consequences if they labeled their consumer products as “rbGH-Free.”
Covington is perhaps best known for its work for the tobacco industry. A judge in Minnesota in 1997 ruled that the firm was willfully disregarding court orders to turn over certain documents pertaining to claims that the tobacco industry engaged in a 40-year conspiracy to mislead the public about the health impacts of smoking and hide damaging scientific research from public view.
Shortly before Obama selected Chhabria for his federal judgeship, an array of former Covington & Burling attorneys took spots in the administration, including Attorney General Eric Holder and deputy chief of staff Daniel Suleiman. It was reported that employees of the law firm contributed more than $340,000 to Obama’s campaign.
Chhabria’s tenure at Covington was short, to be sure. There is no apparent evidence Chhabria ever represented Monsanto’s interests directly. But he is also no stranger to the world of corporate power and influence.How those dots connect in this case is so far unclear.
February 28, 2019: Trial Takes a Day Off
Thursdays are ‘dark’ days for the Roundup cancer trial, meaning lawyers, jurors and witnesses have a day to catch their breath and regroup. And after the fast and furious first three days of the trial, they probably can use the break.
After losing another juror on Wednesday morning, the trial proceeded with the testimony of plaintiff’s expert witness and former U.S. government scientist Christopher Portier. The testimony was provided via a video recorded in Australia last week.
During an afternoon break in Portier’s testimony, Judge Chhabria took a few moments to explain himself for certain comments he made to plaintiff’s lead counsel Aimee Wagstaff on Tuesday before sanctioning her for what he said was misconduct in her opening statement to the jury. (see prior blog entries for details.)
The following is a brief excerpt:
THE COURT: Before we bring in the jury, I want to make a quick statement to Ms. Wagstaff. I was reflecting on the OSC hearing last night, and I wanted to clarify one thing. I gave a list of reasons why I thought your conduct was intentional, and one of those reasons was that you seemed to have prepared yourself in advance for — that you would get a hard time for violating the pretrial rulings. In explaining that, I used the word “steely,” and I want to make clear what I meant by that. I was using steely as an adjective for steeling yourself, which is to make yourself ready for something difficult and unpleasant. My point was that I perceived no surprise on your part; and since lawyers typically seem surprised when they are accused of violating pretrial rulings, that was relevant to me on the issue of intent. But “steely” has another meaning as well, which is far more negative. And I want to assure you that that’s not the meaning that I was using nor was I suggesting anything about your general character traits. So I know you continue to disagree with my ruling and my findings about intent, but I wanted to make that point very clear. MS. WAGSTAFF: Thank you, Your Honor.
February 27, 2019: Judicial Threats and Judge Jokes
(UPDATE – Another juror has just been dismissed. One of the seven women jurors has been dismissed in morning proceedings. That leaves one man and six women. A total of six jurors are required and all must be unanimous in their verdict.)
As day three opens in the first federal trial over claims that Monsanto’s Roundup products can cause cancer, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria has made it clear that he has no fondness for plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s legal team.
Chhabria on Tuesday issued a ruling sanctioning Hardeman’s lead counsel Aimee Wagstaff for what the judge deemed as “several acts of misconduct,” fining her $500 and ordering her to provide a list of all others on her team who participated in drafting her opening statement so that those lawyers may also be sanctioned.
At issue – various remarks made by Wagstaff that Judge Chhabria thought exceeded the tight restrictions he has placed on what evidence the jury can hear. Chhabria wants jurors to hear only about scientific evidence without context about Monsanto’s conduct seeking to influence the scientific record and knowledge of certain scientific findings. Additionally, even though there were no restrictions in place pertaining to the introduction of plaintiff Hardeman to the jury, the judge took issue with Wagstaff’s manner of introduction and description of how he came to learn he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
In Monday’s proceedings the judge made his anger at Wagstaff clear, interrupting her multiple times as she addressed the jury and ordering her to alter her presentation. He also instructed the jury more than once not to consider what Wagstaff said as evidence.
In court on Tuesday he chastised Wagstaff and said that he knew her actions were intentionally aimed at flouting his directives because she did not wither under his “coming down hard on her” in court Monday during her opening statement.
Below is a portion of those proceedings from Tuesday.(References to Moore mean Jennifer Moore, who is co-counsel on the Hardeman case.)
THE COURT: All arrows point to this being bad faith, including, by the way, Ms. Wagstaff’s reactions to the objections. She was clearly ready for it. She clearly braced herself for the fact that I was going to come down hard on her. And she was — to her credit perhaps, she was very steely in her response to my coming down hard on her because she knew it was coming and she braced herself for that.
MS. MOORE: Well, I — Your Honor, I don’t think that is not fair; and that is based on assumptions on the Court’s part.
THE COURT: That is based on my observations of body language and facial expressions.
MS. WAGSTAFF: Well, actually, Your Honor, I would just like to talk about that for just one moment. The fact that I can handle you coming down in front of a jury should not be used against me. I have been coming in front of you now for, what, three years. So I’m used to this communication back and forth. And the fact that I was prepared for anything that you had to say to me — and that you interrupted my opening statement a few times in a row — should not be used against me. The fact that I have composure when you are attacking me, it should not be used against me.
THE COURT: I was not attacking you. I was enforcing the rules, the pretrial rules.
MS. WAGSTAFF: You just said the fact that I was able to compose myself is evidence of intent, and that is just not fair.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys in the case believe that the judge’s directive to separate the trial into two phases and sharply limit the evidence they can present to the jury is extremely favorable to Monsanto and prejudicial to their ability to meet the burden of proof in the case. They also say that the judge’s guidance on what evidence can come in and what cannot is confusing. And they point out that Monsanto’s attorney also in opening statements introduced evidence that was banned by the judge, though he was not sanctioned.
THE COURT: And that is — that is relevant to intent. That is relevant to bad faith. The fact that the Plaintiffs have made so clear that they are so desperate to get this information into Phase One is evidence that it was not just a mistake that they happen to put this information in their opening statements.
MS. MOORE: Your Honor, I did not say we were desperate. What I was trying to explain is that the way the trial is set up is unusual. And I think, Your Honor, that you recognize that after the bifurcation order came out; that this is a unique situation where you limit a trial when we are talking about product case like this to only science in the first phase, and it has created confusion on both sides of the aisle.
That’s for sure.
Joke of the day – told to me by a lawyer who wishes to remain unnamed:
Q: “Who is Monsanto’s best lawyer?”
A: “Judge Chhabria.”
February 25, 2019: Reporting From Court(tweets transcribed here in reverse chronology)
3:30 p.m. –Jury is dismissed by judge but lawyers in Roundup cancer trial still discussing how evidence can or can’t be used. He’s still furious over plaintiff’s lawyer Aimee Wagstaff daring to talk about 1983 @EPA dox showing cancer concerns with glyphosate.
Judge is ripping into Aimee Wagstaff again saying he wants to sanction her $1,000 and maybe the whole plaintiff’s legal team as well. Calling her actions “incredibly dumb.”
2:30p.m. post lunch updates:
As Monsanto Roundup cancer trial resumes, plaintiff’s expert witness Beate Ritz talks to jurors about risk ratios, confidence intervals & statistical significance of cancer science. Touts the value of meta-analyses. @Bayer
Dr. Ritz is testifying about the various studies showing increased risk for cancer from glyphosate exposure.
Plaintiff Edwin Hardeman & his wife watch quietly, but during a break express frustration over how much Judge Chhabria has limited evidence the jury is hearing.
Sure-fire way to draw an objection from @Bayer Monsanto attorneys at Roundup cancer trial: mention @IARCWHO scientific classification of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.
Day one of @Bayer Monsanto Roundup cancer trial concludes after lengthy testimony from scientist Beate Ritz walking jurors through research that shows risks of NHL from exposure to glyphosate herbicides. Judge thanks jurors for being attentive; tells them to stay away from media.
Only one day in and Roundup cancer trial is losing a juror. One of the two men on jury claims work hardship; he can’t afford to lose paycheck. That leaves 7 women and 1 man to decide case. Verdict must be unanimous for plaintiff to win.
11:10 a.m. Monsanto/Bayer wraps up its opening and now preparing for first witness, plaintiff scientist Beate Ritz. More updates from opening statement:
Plaintiff’s attorney calls for sidebar as those statements were barred by pre-trial orders but judge overrules her.
Now Monsanto attorney shows chart saying while glyphosate use has increased over decades, rates of NHL have not. He then says that despite @IARCWHO classification as glyphosate as probable carcinogen @EPA & foreign regulators disagree.
Defense attorney for Monsanto @Bayer on a roll; telling jurors all about the Agricultural Health Study, which showed no ties between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Lawyer makes point Monsanto had nothing to do with the study.
10:45 a.m.Now it’s @Bayer Monsanto’s turn for opening statements – attorney Brian Stekloff tells jury “Roundup did not cause Mr. Hardeman’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma.”
Judge just orders another Monsanto @Bayer slide removed, interrupting defense attorney opening statement. Playing hardball with both sides.
Plaintiff’s attorney objects to one of Monsanto attorneys slides; judge agrees and slide is removed. Defense attorney making case that Hardeman’s history of Hepatitis C likely to blame for his NHL.
He tells jurors NHL is common type of cancer and most NHL victims are not Roundup users; there is no test a doctor can run to tell a patient his disease was or was not caused by Roundup.
10:15 updates on opening remarks of plaintiff’s attorney Aimee Wagstaff:
Judge now threatening to sanction plaintiff’s attorney and pondering if he should refuse to allow jury to see the plaintiff’s slides. @Bayer Monsanto lawyer says yes. Aimee asks to address his concern; judge cuts her off.
Judge now dismisses jury for break and then RIPS into plaintiff’s attorney – says she has “crossed the line” and is “totally inappropriate” in her opening statements. Says this is her “final warning.” Never a dull moment at the @BayerMonsanto Roundup cancer trial.
Judge also tells her to “move on” when she tries to explain that @EPAonly assesses glyphosate and not whole product.
She is allowed brief mention of @IARCWHOclassification of glyphosate as probable human carcinogen but judge cuts her off before she can say much.
In opening statement for @BayerMonsanto Roundup cancer trial plaintiff’s attorney points to new meta-analysis showing compelling ties to cancer (see Guardian story).
In opening statement for Roundup cancer trial plaintiff’s attorney reads from 1980s-era @EPAmemo “glyphosate is suspect” & goes through the story of how Monsanto engineered a reversal of EPA concerns. Jurors look a little confused by all this science stuff.
9:35 a.m. Now plaintiff attorney telling the story of the 1983 mouse study that caused @EPAscientists to find glyphosate cancer causing… before Monsanto convinced them not to. oops. Judge cuts her off again. Sidebar. @BayerMonsanto has to love this. For more on the 1983 mouse study, see 2017 article, “Of Mice, Monsanto and a Mysterious Tumor.“
9:30 a.m. The main theme this morning is the judge is giving no leeway to the plaintiff’s attorney, via @careygillam:
8:49 a.m. Judge Chhabria is showing an early tight rein on this Roundup cancer trial. He stopped plaintiff’s attorney Aimee Wagstaff within minutes of her opening for a sidebar. Wagstaff opened by introducing the wife of the plaintiff, and began telling the story of their life and Hardeman finding the lump in his neck. The judge interrupted to tell Wagstaff to stick to comments dealing with causation only.
8:10 a.m. “Court is now in session”. Courtroom is packed for opening statements in Roundup cancer trial. Right off the bat, Monsanto Bayer, and plaintiff’s attorneys are already in conflict over evidence to be introduced.
8:00 a.m. And we’re off. Six months after a California jury decided Monsanto’s weed killers caused a groundskeeper’s cancer,another California jury is getting ready to hear similar arguments against Monsanto.
This time the case is being heard in federal court, not state court. Importantly, the judge has agreed with a request from Monsanto to try the case in two phases with evidence of potential negligent and deceptive conduct by Monsanto withheld during the first phase to allow the jury to focus solely on evidence pertaining to the question of whether or not the company’s products were to blame for the plaintiff’s cancer.
Plainitiff Edwin Hardeman suffers from B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which was diagnosed in February 2015, one month before the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate, a key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup and other herbicide brands, as a “probable human carcinogen.
Hardeman used Roundup products regularly to treat weeds and overgrowth on a 56-acre tract he owned in Sonoma County. Documents filed in federal court pertaining to the Hardeman trial can be found here.
Seven women and two men were selected as jurors to hear the Hardeman case. The judge has said the case should run through the end of March. Yesterday Judge Chhabria denied Monsanto a motion for summary judgement.
February 20, 2019: Jury Selected
Lawyers wasted no time Wednesday in selecting the jury for next week’s trial start. The jury is made up of 7 women and two men. For plaintiff Edwin Hardeman to win his case, the jury verdict must be unanimous.
The case is being tried in two phases. If jurors do not find in favor of the plaintiff in the first phase there will be no second phase. See below, January 10, 2019 post, for more explanation on the difference in the two phases.
Ahead of the trial lawyers for both sides have filed a joint list of exhibits they plan to introduce, or “may” introduce, as evidence during the proceedings. The list runs 463 pages and includes records ranging from decades-old EPA memos and email exchanges with Monsanto to more recent scientific studies.
February 19, 2019: Last-Minute Moves
With less than a week to go before opening statements in the Feb. 25 federal civil trial over accusations that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weed killers cause cancer, lawyers for both sides were readying for jury selection that starts Wednesday.
In pre-trial proceedings lawyers for plaintiff Edwin Hardeman and the legal team representing Monsanto, now a unit of Bayer AG, have already been arguing over jury selection based solely on written responses provided by prospective jurors, and many have already been stricken by U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria for cause.
On Wednesday, attorneys will question the prospective jurors in person. Monsanto’s attorneys are particularly concerned about potential jurors who know about the case that Monsanto lost last summer. In that trial, plaintiff Dewayne “Lee” Johnson won a unanimous jury verdict on claims similar to Hardeman’s – that Monsanto’s herbicides caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto failed to warn of the risks. Johnson was awarded $289 million by jurors, but the judge in the case reduced the verdict to $78 million.
The stakes in this case are high. The first loss hit Bayer hard; its share price is down nearly 30 percent since the verdict and investors remain skittish. Another loss in court could provide another blow to the company’s market capitalization, particularly because there are roughly 9,000 other plaintiffs waiting for their day in court.
In preparation for the trial opening on Monday morning, Judge Chhabria saidin a Feb. 15 hearing that he will separate out all jury candidates on a Monsanto list who say they have heard about the Johnson case for specific questioning about their knowledge of that case.
Among those already stricken from the jury pool based on their written questionnaires were several people who indicated they had negative perceptions about Monsanto. While the judge agreed with Monsanto’s request to remove those people from the jury pool, he refused a request from plaintiff’s attorneys to strike a prospective juror who said the opposite – the juror wrote that he feels that “they (Monsanto) typically are very honest and helpful to society,” and said he believed Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide was safe.
Judge Chhabria said “I didn’t think anyone in the Bay Area felt that way….”
In other pre-trial action, lawyers from both sides were in Australia preparing for testimony from plaintiff’s expert witness Christopher Portier. Portier is providing video-recorded testimony in advance with direct and cross-examination. He was scheduled to be in court in person for the trial but suffered a heart attack in January and has been advised against the long air travel that would be required to appear in person.
Portier is one of the plaintiff’s star witnesses. He is former director of the National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and a former scientist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
In other pre-trial action, Judge Chhabria ruled on Monday on motions from both parties dealing with what evidence would be allowed in and what would be excluded. Chhabria has ruled that there will be a first phase of the trial in which evidence will be limited to causation. If the jury does find that Monsanto’s products caused Hardeman’s cancer there will be a second phase in which evidence may be introduced pertaining to the allegations by plaintiff’s attorneys that Monsanto has engaged in a cover-up of the risks of its products.
Evidence the plaintiff’s attorneys say shows Monsanto engaged in ghostwriting scientific literature is excluded for the first phase of the trial.
Evidence or Monsanto’s marketing materials is excluded for both phases.
Comparisons between Monsanto and the tobacco industry are excluded.
An email from Monsanto discussing work with the American Council on Science and Health is excluded from the first phase.
Arguments that glyphosate is needed to “feed the world” are excluded for both phases.
Certain EPA documents are excluded.
An analysis by the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifying glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen is “restricted.”
One piece of evidence plaintiff’s attorneys plan to introduce is a new meta-analysis A broad new scientific analysis of the cancer-causing potential of glyphosate herbicides. The study found that people with high exposures to the herbicides have a 41% increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
The study authors, top scientists who the Environmental Protection Agency has used as advisers, said the evidence“supports a compelling link” between exposures to glyphosate-based herbicides and increased risk for NHL.
February 8, 2019: Evidence and Issues – With the high-stakes, first federal Roundup cancer trial fast approaching on Feb. 25, lawyers for Monsanto – and its owner Bayer AG – have laid out a long list of evidence and issuesthey do not want introduced at trial.
Among the things the company does not want presented at trial are the following: Mentions of other litigation against Monsanto; evidence regarding the company’s public relations activities; comparisons to the tobacco industry; information about the company’s association with “controversial products” such as Agent Orange and PCBs; information about Monsanto’s “wealth”; and information about “Bayer’s role in World War II.”
None of the evidence Monsanto wants excluded at trial has any bearing on whether or not its herbicides caused the plaintiff’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the company’s attorneys told the judge.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys have their own list of things they’d rather not be presented to the jury. Among them: Information about attorney advertising for plaintiffs in the Roundup litigation; the “unrelated medical history” of plaintiff Edwin Hardeman; and evidence about foreign regulatory decisions.
Meanwhile, on Feb. 6 both parties filed a “joint trial exhibit list” detailing each and every piece of evidence they plan to present – or may present – to the jury. The list runs 314 pages and includes a host of internal Monsanto documents as well as regulatory documents, scientific studies, and reports by various expert witnesses.
Bayer added another member to the Monsanto Roundup defense team. On Feb. 8, Shook Hardy & Bacon attorney James Shepherd filed his notice of appearance in the Roundup Products Liability Litigation in federal court. Shepherd has defended Bayer against various lawsuits, including claims alleging injuries tied to Bayer’s cholesterol-lowering medication, and allegations of harm from an intrauterine device (IUD).
As well, both sides recently filed a joint list of exhibits each plan to introduce at trial, including depositions, photographs, emails, regulatory documents, scientific studies and more. The list runs 320 pages.
Judge Vince Chhabria indicated in a Feb. 4 hearing that if the jury finds for the plaintiff in the first phase of the bifurcated trial, meaning if the jury determines that Monsanto’s herbicides were a cause of Edwin Hardeman’s cancer, the second phase of the trial will begin the following day. That second phase will focus on Monsanto’s conduct and any potential punitive damages.
January 29, 2019 – We are less than a month away from the start of the first federal trialin the Roundup products liability litigation, and both sides are loading up the court files with scores of pleadings and exhibits. Included in recent filings are several noteworthy internal Monsanto documents. A few are highlighted below. A more complete posting of the court documents can be found on the main USRTK Monsanto Papers page.
Get up and shout for glyphosate:Internal Monsanto emails written in 1999 detail the company’s “scientific outreach” work and efforts to develop a global network of “outside scientific experts who are influential at driving science, regulators, public opinion, etc.” The plan called for having people “directly or indirectly/behind the scenes” working on Monsanto’s behalf. The company wanted “people to get up and shout Glyphosate is Non-toxic,” according to the email thread. For the plan to work they “may have to divorce Monsanto from direct association with the expert or we will waste the $1,000/day these guys are charging.”
This intriguing email thread from January 2015 discusses a retired Monsanto plant worker who reported to the company that he had been diagnosed with Hairy cell leukemia, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He wrote that he had “irregular blood counts” before he retired, and he wondered if his diagnosis was “related to working around all of the chemicals” at the company’s plant. The company’s “adverse effects team” reviewed his case and a Monsanto “health nurse” told him they had not found an association between his “medical condition” and the chemicals at the plant where he worked. They also indicate in the email thread that there is no need to notify EPA. One email dated Nov. 21, 2014 written broadly to “Monsanto Employees” from the adverse effects team lets employees know that although the EPA requires the reporting of information about adverse effects of pesticide products such as injury or health problems, employees should not notify EPA themselves if they become aware of any such problems. Employees should “immediately forward” information to the company’s adverse effects unit instead.
Did Monsanto Collaborate on AHS Study? Monsanto and new owner Bayer repeatedly have sought to counter scores of studies showing ties between glyphosate herbicides and cancer by touting one study – an update to the U.S. government-backed Agricultural Health Study (AHS) that found no ties between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The AHS is a foundational part of the company’s defense in the Roundup products liability litigation. But there have been many questions about the timing of the AHS update, which raced through peer review much faster than is normal for papers in peer-reviewed journals. The update was released to the public on the morning of Nov. 9, 2017 – the same day as a critical court hearing in the Roundup cancer litigation. It was cited by Monsanto at that hearing as a “significant development” and a reason to delay proceedings. A May 11, 2015 internal Monsanto “Proposal for Post-IARC Meeting Scientific Projects” discusses the potential for an “AHS Collaboration.” Monsanto called the proposal “most appealing” as it would appear that Monsanto was “somewhat distanced” from the study.
Despite much talk about “800 studies” showing the safety of glyphosate Monsanto acknowledged in a court filingthat it “has not identified any 12 month or longer chronic toxicity studies that it has conducted on glyphosate containing formulations that were available for sale in the United States of as June 29, 2017.”
Separate news of note –Plaintiffs’ expert scientific witness Dr. Christopher Portier will not be coming to San Francisco to testify at the trial as planned. Portier suffered a heart attack while traveling in Australia earlier in January and is still recovering.
And in a move welcomed by plaintiffs’ attorneys, U.S. Judge Vincent Chhabria on Monday said that he may allow some evidence about Monsanto’s alleged ghostwriting of scientific studies into the first phase of the upcoming trial despite Monsanto’s efforts to keep the evidence out until and unless a second phase of the trial occurs. Evidence of Monsanto’s efforts to influence regulators and scientists may also be allowed in the first phase, Chhabria said. Chhabria has ordered that the trial be bifurcated, meaning that the first phase will deal only with the allegation of causation. If the jury does find that Monsanto’s herbicides caused plaintiff Edwin Hardeman’s cancer, then a second phase would be held to explore Monsanto’s conduct.
January 18, 2019 —Time flies when a big case approaches.U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria has set an evidentiary hearing for Jan. 28 at 9 a.m. local time in federal court in San Francisco to be followed by a “Daubert” hearing that day at 2 p.m. The hearings are to consider evidence and experts that will be key to the first-ever federal trial taking up claims that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides can cause cancer and Monsanto has covered up the risks. Video recording of the proceedings is being allowed.
Chhabria has taken the unusual step of agreeing with a request from the attorneys representing Monsanto and its owner Bayer AG to bifurcate the trial. The first phase, per Monsanto’s request, will deal only with evidence relevant causation – if its products caused the cancer suffered by plaintiff Edwin Hardeman. Evidence of Monsanto efforts to manipulate regulators and the scientific literature and “ghost write” various articles would only be presented in a second phase of the trial if jurors in the first phase find the herbicides were a substantial factor in causing Hardeman’s cancer.
The parties are in disagreement over exactly what evidence should be allowed in the causation phase.
Monsanto specifically has asked the judge to exclude from evidence:
A 2001 email detailing internal discussions regarding an independent epidemiology study published that year.
A 2015 internal email regarding the company’s relationship with and funding of the American Council on Science and Health, a group that purports to be independent of industry as its promotes safety messaging about glyphosate products.
A 2015 email chain including internal commentary by Monsanto scientist Bill Heydens about the role surfactants play in glyphosate formulated products.
For point 1, attorneys for Hardeman have said they do not intend to try to introduce the evidence “unless the door is opened by Monsanto.”
For point 2, they also said they do not intend to introduce the ACSH correspondence “unless Monsanto in any way relies on the ACSH’s junk science positions regarding the carcinogenicity” of glyphosate-based formulations “or attacks on IARC’s classification of glyphosate.”
As for the 2015 Heydens email chain, attorney’s for Hardeman argue the correspondence is illuminating to the causation question. Heydens’ email refers to the results of a 2010 study referred to as George et al., which found a statistically significant increase of tumors on the skin of rodents following exposure to a formulated Roundup product. The study is one relied upon by plaintiffs’ general causation experts.
The letter brief laying out the positions by opposing parties is here.
In a separate issue – the ongoing government shut-down could impact the Feb. 25 trial date for the Hardeman case. Judge Chhabria has said that he does not intend to ask jurors to sit in a trial without being paid.
January 16, 2019 – (UPDATED Feb. 9, 2019) New documents filed in federal court are threatening to expose Reuters news reporter Kate Kelland for acting as Monsanto’s puppet in driving a false narrative about cancer scientist Aaron Blair and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.
In 2017, Kelland authored a controversial story attributed to “court documents,” that actually appears to have been fed to her by a Monsanto executive who helpfully provided several key points the company wanted made. The documents Kelland cited were not filed in court, and not publicly available at the time she wrote her story but writing that her story was based on court documents allowed her to avoid disclosing Monsanto’s role in driving the story.
When the story came out, it portrayed cancer scientist Aaron Blair as hiding “important information” that found no links between glyphosate and cancer from IARC. Kelland wrote that Blair “said the data would have altered IARC’s analysis” even though a review of the full deposition shows that Blair did not say that.
Kelland provided no link to the documents she cited, making it impossible for readers to see for themselves how far she veered from accuracy.
The story was picked up by media outlets around the world, and promoted by Monsanto and chemical industry allies. Google advertisements were even purchased promoting the story.
Now, new information revealed in court filings indicates just how heavy Monsanto’s hand was in pushing the narrative. In a January 15 court filing, Plaintiff’s attorneys cited internal Monsanto correspondence dated April 27, 2017 they say show that Monsanto executive Sam Murphey sent the desired narrative to Kelland with a slide deck of talking points and portions of the Blair deposition that was not filed in court. The attorneys said the correspondence shows the Monsanto executive asking her to publish an article accusing Dr. Blair of deceiving IARC.
Monsanto and Bayer lawyers have tried to keep the correspondence with Kelland sealed from public view, and some of the emails between the Reuters reporter and Monsanto still have not been released.
Plaintiff’s attorneys also write in their letter brief that Monsanto’s internal documents show Kelland was seen as a a key media contact in their efforts to discredit IARC.
There is nothing inherently wrong in receiving story suggestions that benefit companies from the companies themselves. It happens all the time. But reporters must be diligent in presenting facts, not corporate propaganda.
At the very least, Kelland should have been honest with readers and acknowledged that Monsanto was her source. Reuters owes the world – and IARC – an apology.For more background on this topic, see this article.
January 10, 2019 –For those wanting more details on the reasoning and ramifications of a federal court judge’s decision to limit large volumes of evidence related to Monsanto’s internal communications and conduct from the first federal trial, this transcriptof the Jan. 4 hearing on the matter is informative.
Here is an exchange between plaintiff’s attorney Brent Wisner and Judge Vince Chhabria that illustrates the frustration and fear plaintiff’s attorneys have over the limitation of their evidence to direct causation, with much of the evidence dealing with Monsanto’s conduct and internal communications restricted. The judge has said that evidence would only come in at a second phase of the trial if jurors in a first phase find that Monsanto’s Roundup products directly contributed substantially to the plaintiff’s cancer.
WISNER: Here is a great example: Monsanto’s chief toxicologist,
Donna Farmer, she writes in an e-mail: We can’t say Roundup
doesn’t cause cancer. We have not done the necessary testing
on the formulated product.
THE COURT: That would not come in — my gut reaction
is that that would not come in in the first phase.
WISNER: So that is literally Monsanto’s chief
toxicologist — a person who has more knowledge about Roundup
than anyone else in the world — saying —
THE COURT: The question is whether it causes cancer,
not whether — not Farmer’s opinion on what Monsanto can say or
not say. It is about what the science actually shows.
WISNER: Sure. She is literally talking about the
science that they didn’t do.
THE COURT: My gut is that that is actually really a
fairly easy question, and the answer to that fairly easy
question is that that doesn’t come in in the first phase.”
January 9, 2019 – The first federal trial in the Roundup Products Liability Litigation may still be more than a month away, but the calendar is busy for attorneys on both sides. See below the schedule set by the judge in an order filed yesterday:
PRETRIAL ORDER NO. 63: UPCOMING DEADLINES FOR BELLWETHER TRIAL.
Evidentiary Hearing set for 1/28/2019 09:00 AM in San Francisco, Courtroom 04, 17th Floor before Judge Vince Chhabria.
Dr. Shustov’s Daubert Hearing set for 1/28/2019 02:00 PM in San Francisco, Courtroom 04, 17th Floor before Judge Vince Chhabria.
Jury Selection to complete the supplemental questionnaire in the jury office (not on the record or in court) set for 2/13/2019 08:30 AM in San Francisco.
Jury Selection (hardship and challenge cause hearing with counsel and Court) set for 2/15/2019 10:30 AM in San Francisco, Courtroom 04, 17th Floor before Judge Vince Chhabria.
January 7, 2019 – The new year is off to a strong start for Monsanto as the Bayer unit heads into its second trial over allegations that its Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer. In aJan. 3 ruling, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria rejected arguments by attorneys representing cancer victims and sided with Monsanto in deciding to block jurors from hearing a large portion of evidence that plaintiffs say shows efforts by Monsanto to manipulate and influence regulators in a first phase of the trial. In deciding to bifurcate the trial, Chhabria said that jurors will only hear such evidence if they first agree that Monsanto’s weed killer did significantly contribute to causing the plaintiff’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
“A significant portion of the plaintiffs’ case involves attacks on Monsanto for attempting to influence regulatory agencies and manipulate public opinion regarding glyphosate. These issues are relevant to punitive damages and some liability questions. But when it comes to whether glyphosate caused a plaintiff’s NHL, these issues are mostly a distraction, and a significant one at that,” the judge’s order states.
He did provide a caveat, writing, “if the plaintiffs have evidence that Monsanto manipulated the outcome of scientific studies, as opposed to agency decisions or public opinion regarding those studies, that evidence may well be admissible at the causation phase.”
Jury selection is set to begin Feb. 20 with the trial set to get underway on Feb. 25 in San Francisco. The case is Edwin Hardeman v. Monsanto.
Meanwhile, plaintiff Lee Johnson, who was the first cancer victim to take Monsanto to trial, winning a unanimous jury verdict against the company in August, has also won his request to the 1st District Court of Appeals for speedy handling of Monsanto’s appeal of that jury award. Monsanto opposed Johnson’s request for “calendar preference,” but the court granted the request on Dec. 27, giving Monsanto 60 days to file its opening brief.
December 20, 2018 – U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said on Thursday that he would not rule until January on the disputed issue of bifurcation of the first federal trial, which is set to get underway in February. Attorneys for plaintiffs and for Monsanto were ordered to file all of their experts’ reports by Friday, December 21 to help Chhabria in his decision.
December 18, 2018 –Monsanto/Bayer lawyers responded Friday to de-designation requests concerning several hundred internal Monsanto records, seeking to keep most of them sealed in opposition to requests from plaintiffs’ attorneys. Company lawyers did agree to the release of some internal documents, which could be made public this week.
In the meantime both sides are awaiting a ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria on a motion made by Monsanto attorneys to reverse bifurcate the first federal court trial in the mass Roundup cancer litigation. That trial is set to begin Feb. 25 and is considered a bellwether that will set the stage for how and if other cases proceed and/or are resolved.
Monsanto would like the federal court trials to be conducted in two phases—a first phase focused on medical causation – did the company’s herbicides cause the specific plaintiff’s cancer – and a second phase to address liability only if plaintiffs prevail in the first phase.
The issues of causation and compensatory damages are “separate and distinct from Monsanto’s alleged negligence and company conduct and would involve testimony from different witnesses,” the company argued. Bifurcation would avoid “undue delay in resolving this case…”
Plaintiffs’ attorneys object to the bifurcation saying the idea is “unheard of” in modern multi district litigation (MDL), which is what Chhabria is overseeing. More than 600 lawsuits are pending in his court alleging that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused plaintiffs’ cancers, and Monsanto failed to warn consumers of the dangers of its products.
“It is simply never done, and for good reason,” plaintiffs’ attorneys argued in a Dec. 13 court filing. “The purpose of a bellwether trial is to allow each side to test their theories and evidence against a real-world jury and, hopefully, learn important information about the strengths and weaknesses of the case to inform collective resolution. Imposing a one-sided procedural hurdle—one that would be a de facto outlier for the 10,000 cases proceeding around the country—does not accomplish that goal. It renders any verdict in this MDL, no matter which side prevails, unhelpful.” The next hearing in the case is set for Jan. 4.
December 14, 2018 – Plaintiff Seeks Expedited Handling of Monsanto’s Appeal as His Health Deteriorates
Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, the first plaintiff to take Monsanto to trial alleging the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer, is scheduled for surgery today to remove a new cancerous growth on one of his arms.
Johnson’s health has been deteriorating since the trial’s conclusion in August and an interruption in treatment due to a temporary lapse in insurance coverage. He has not received any funds from the litigation due to the appeals Monsanto instigated after Johnson court victory. Monsanto is appealing the verdict of $78 million, which was reduced by the trial judge from the jury’s award of $289 million.
Johnson filed notice with the court in October that he would accept the reduced award. But because Monsanto has appealed, Johnson’s attorneys have also filed an appeal, seeking to reinstate the jury award.
The California State Court of Appeals, 1st Appellate District, case number is A155940. Johnson’s attorneys are seeking expedited handling of the appeal and say they hope to have briefings completed by April. “There is… a strong likelihood that Mr. Johnson is going to die in 2019,” the plaintiff’s motion states. Johnson, who plans to restart immunotherapy after his surgery, is not necessarily in agreement.
“I hate to think about dying,” he said in an interview published in Time Magazine. “Even when I feel like I’m dying, I just make myself move past it. I feel like you can’t give in to it, the diagnosis, the disease, because then you really are dead. I don’t mess around with the death cloud, the dark thoughts, the fears. I’m planning for a good life.”
December 13, 2018 – More Monsanto Shoes (Documents) Set to Drop
The law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman, which partnered with The Miller Firm in notching the historic victory for plaintiff Dewayne Lee Johnson over Monsanto in August, is seeking the de-designation of several hundred pages of internal Monsanto records that were obtained through discovery but have so far been kept sealed.
Baum Hedlund last year released hundreds of other internal Monsanto records that include emails, memos, text messages and other communications that were influential in the unanimous jury verdict finding Monsanto acted with “malice” by not warning customers of scientific concerns about its glyphosate-based herbicides. Jury sources say that those internal records were very influential in their $250 million punitive damage award against Monsanto, which the judge in the case reduced to $39 million for a total award of $78 million.
Attorneys for plaintiffs in two upcoming trials say that Monsanto records that have not been seen publicly before will be part of new evidence they plan to introduce at the trials.
Today is also the deadline for plaintiffs attorneys to respond to Monsanto’s motion to “reverse bifurcate” the Feb. 25 trial set for U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California. (see Dec. 11 entry below for more details)
December 12, 2018 – New Judge Appointed in Pilliod Case
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ioana Petrou, who has spent more than a year engaged in the Roundup cancer litigation and sat through many days of the presentation of scientific evidence by plaintiffs and defense experts in a federal court hearing in March 2017, is off the case. California Gov. Jerry Brown announced on November 21st that Petrou has been appointed associate justice, Division Three of the First District Court of Appeal.
Judge Winifred Smith has been named to replace Petrou to oversee the case of Pilliod V. Monsanto, which is scheduled to go to trial March 8 in Oakland, California. Smith was appointed by Governor Gray Davis in November 2000, and prior to her appointment, served as deputy assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice in San Francisco.
The Pilliod case will be the third to go to trial in the sweeping Roundup mass tort litigation. Alva Pilliod and his wife Alberta Pilliod, both in their 70s and married for 48 years, allege that their cancers – forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma – are due to their long exposure to Roundup. Their advanced ages and cancer diagnoses warrant a speedy trial, according to court filings by their attorneys. Monsanto opposed their request for the expedited trial date but Petrou found the couple’s illnesses and ages warranted preference. Alberta has brain cancer while Alva suffers from a cancer that has invaded his pelvis and spine. Alva was diagnosed in 2011 while Alberta was diagnosed in 2015. They used Roundup from roughly the mid -1970s until only a few years ago.
The Pilliod suit echoes others in claiming that “Monsanto led a prolonged campaign of misinformation to convince government agencies, farmers and the general public that Roundup was safe.”
December 11, 2018 – Attorneys Scramble Ahead of Next Trial
With the next trial in the mass Roundup cancer litigation set for Feb. 25 in San Francisco, attorneys for Monsanto and plaintiffs are scrambling to take more than two dozen depositions in the waning weeks of December and into January even as they debate how the trial should be organized.
Monsanto attorneys on Dec. 10 filed a motion to “reverse bifurcate” the next trial, Edwin Hardeman V. Monsanto (3:16-cv-00525). Monsanto wants the jury only to hear evidence focused on specific medical causation first – did its herbicide cause the plaintiff’s cancer – with a second phase that would address Monsanto’s liability and damages only necessary if the jury found in plaintiff’s favor in the first phase. See Monsanto’s argument here. Judge Chhabria granted a request from plaintiff’s attorneys to be allowed until Thursday to file their response.
Edwin Hardeman and his wife spent many years living on a 56-acre, former exotic animal refuge in Sonoma County, California where Hardeman routinely used Roundup products to treat overgrown grasses and weeds since the 1980s. He was diagnosed with B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma in February 2015, just a month before the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen.
Hardeman’s case was selected as the first to be tried in federal court in San Francisco (Northern District of California) in front of Judge Vince Chhabria. Attorney Aimee Wagstaff of Denver, Colorado, is lead plaintiff’s counsel on the case. Attorney Brent Wisner of the Baum Hedlund law firm in Los Angeles, and the lawyer credited with leading the victory in Dewayne Lee Johnson’s historic August victory over Monsanto, had been expected to help try the case but now has another case scheduled to begin in March. That case is Pilliod, et al V. Monsanto in Alameda County Superior Court. See related documents on the Monsanto Papers main page.
Monsanto’s new owner Bayer AG is not content to rely on Monsanto’s trial team that lost the Johnson case and is bringing in its own legal defense team. The Bayer team, which helped the German company win litigation over the Xarelto blood thinner, now includes Pamela Yates and Andrew Solow of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer and Brian Stekloff of Wilkinson Walsh Eskovitz.
Hearings on specific causation issues are set in the Hardeman case for Feb. 4, 6, 11, and 13 with jury selection scheduled for Feb. 20. Opening arguments would then begin Feb. 25, according to the current schedule.
December 6, 2018 – Upcoming Monsanto Trial Dates
2/25/2019 – Federal Court – Hardeman
3/18/2019 – CA JCCP – Pilliod (2 plaintiffs)
4/1/2019 – St. Louis City Court – Hall
4/22/2019 – St. Louis County Court – Gordon
5/25/2019 – Federal Court – Stevick or Gebeyehou
9/9/2019 – St. Louis County Court – 4 plaintiffs
1/21/2020 – St. Louis City Court – 10 plaintiffs
3/23/2020 – St. Louis City Court
November 21, 2018 – Lee Johnson interview
Dewayne “Lee” Johnson was the first person to take Monsanto to court alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused him to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company covered up the risks. In August 2018, a jury in San Francisco unanimously found that Monsanto had failed to warn about the carcinogenic dangers of Roundup herbicide and related products, and they awarded Johnson $289 million. A judge later reduced that amount to $78 million. Carey Gillam spoke with Johnson about the aftermath of his case in this interview for TIME magazine:I Won a Historic Lawsuit But May Not Get to Keep the Money
Less than a month away from what would be the fourth Roundup cancer trial to pit cancer victims against the former agrochemical giant Monsanto Co., lawyers for the opposing sides continue to battle over how, when and where the case should – or should not – be heard.
Lawyers for Monsanto and for its German owner Bayer AG, sent a letter last week to the presiding judge in St. Louis County Circuit Court seeking action that would break up the group of plaintiffs into many smaller groups and delay the trial date of Oct. 15 that was previously set for 14 plaintiffs who had been grouped under the case Winston V. Monsanto.
Lead plaintiff Walter Winston and 13 others from around the country were set for trial in St. Louis City Court but Monsanto protested the venue for all the plaintiffs except Winston and after months of battling between the lawyers for both sides, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Michael Mullen transferred all plaintiffs except Winston to St. Louis County in a Sept. 13 order. A Missouri Supreme Court ruling early this year found it was improper for plaintiffs’ attorneys to anchor plaintiffs from outside the area to someone who had proper venue to bring a lawsuit in St. Louis.
Plaintiffs attorneys have been working to keep all 14 plaintiffs together and on track for an Oct. 15 trial, seeking approval for Judge Mullen to take a temporary assignment to the county for the purposes of trying the Roundup case. But Monsanto protested that effort, calling it an “extraordinary proposal” in the company’s Sept. 19 letter to St. Louis County Judge Gloria Clark Reno.
The company said the plaintiffs’ attorneys “have only themselves to blame for the position they are now in. At the time they filed their claims, venue in the City of St. Louis was not proper… The Missouri Supreme Court’s decision… flatly confirmed that conclusion.”
Additionally, Monsanto’s lawyers argued in their letter that any trial should have no more than two plaintiffs: “A joint trial of the disparate claims of thirteen plaintiffs – claims arising under the law of three different states – would inevitably and impermissibly confuse the jury and deprive Monsanto of a fair trial.”
The Winston lawsuit, filed in March of 2018, would be the first trial to take place in the St. Louis area. Two trials that had been set to start in St. Louis in August and September have been delayed.
Before selling to Bayer last year, Monsanto was based in the suburb of Creve Coeur and was one of the largest St. Louis area-based employers. Roundup cancer trials that had been set for St. Louis area in August and September have both already been delayed until next year. The back and forth battling over where and when the Winston trial may or may not take place has been ongoing for more than a year.
The plaintiffs in the Winston case are among more than 18,000 people in the United States suing Monsanto claiming that exposure to the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto hid the risks associated with its weed killers. Three juries in three trials over similar claims have found in favor of plaintiffs and ordered large punitive damages against Monsanto.
Bayer and lawyers for the plaintiffs are engaged in discussions about a potential global settlement of the litigation. Bayer has been dealing with a depressed share price and disgruntled investors ever since the Aug. 10, 2018 jury decision in the first Roundup cancer trial. The jury awarded California groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson $289 million and found that Monsanto acted with malice in suppressing information about the risks of its herbicides.
UPDATED- St. Louis Trial over Monsanto Roundup Cancer Claims in Limbo
(UPDATE) – On Sept. 12, the Missouri Supreme Court closed the case, agreeing with plaintiffs’ attorneys that Monsanto’s request for the high court to take up the venue issue was moot. St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Michael Mullen then transferred all plaintiffs except Winston to St. Louis County in a Sept. 13 order.)
An October trial pitting a group of cancer patients against Monsanto in the company’s former home state of Missouri is snared in a tangled web of actions that threaten to indefinitely postpone the case.
New court filings show that lawyers for both sides of Walter Winston, et al v. Monsanto have been engaging in a series of strategic moves that may now be backfiring on them leading up to the trial date of Oct. 15 date set by St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Michael Mullen. Lawyers for the 14 plaintiffs named in the Winston lawsuit have been pushing to keep their case on track so they can present claims from the cancer victims to a St. Louis jury next month. But Monsanto lawyers have been working to delay the trial and disrupt the combination of plaintiffs.
The Winston lawsuit, filed in March of 2018, would be the first trial to take place in the St. Louis area. Before selling to the German company Bayer AG last year, Monsanto was based in the suburb of Creve Coeur and was one of the largest St. Louis area-based employers. Roundup cancer trials that had been set for St. Louis area in August and September have both already been delayed until next year.
The plaintiffs in the Winston case are among more than 18,000 people in the United States suing Monsanto claiming that exposure to the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto hid the risks associated with its weed killers.
The back and forth battling over where and when the Winston trial may or may not take place began more than a year ago and has involved not only the local St. Louis court but also the appeals court in Missouri and the state Supreme Court.
In March of this year Monsanto filed a motion to sever and transfer 13 of the 14 plaintiffs in the Winston case from the St. Louis City Court to the Circuit Court for the County of St. Louis, where the company’s registered agent was located and where “venue is proper.” The motion was denied. The company had filed a similar motion in 2018 but it also was denied.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers opposed such a severing and transfer earlier this year, but they have now changed that stance because amid all the maneuvering, Monsanto has been seeking intervention by the Missouri Supreme Court. The state’s high court ruled earlier this year in an unrelated case that it was not proper for plaintiffs located outside St. Louis City to join their cases to a city resident in order to obtain venue in St. Louis City. St. Louis City court has long been considered a favorable venue for plaintiffs in mass tort actions
Monsanto’s bid for intervention by the Missouri Supreme Court was rewarded on Sept. 3 when the Supreme Court issued a “preliminary writ of prohibition” allowing Walter Winston’s individual case to “proceed as scheduled” in St. Louis City Circuit Court. But the court said that the cases of the 13 other plaintiffs joined in Winston’s lawsuit could not proceed at this time as it considers how to handle the cases. The court ordered a freeze on any further actions by the St. Louis City Court, “until the further order of this Court.”
Fearing their case will be broken apart and/or delayed waiting for a Supreme Court decision on venue, the plaintiffs’ lawyers on Sept. 4 said they were withdrawing their opposition to Monsanto’s request for a transfer of the case to St. Louis County.
But now Monsanto no longer wants the case transferred given the Supreme Court’s action. In a filing last week the company said: “Plaintiffs fought venue at every opportunity, instead of agreeing to transfer their claims to St. Louis County and seeking a trial setting in that Court long ago. Rewarding the Winston Plaintiffs for this choice will only encourage further gamesmanship.”
On Monday, the plaintiffs’ attorneys filed a response arguing that the Winston plaintiffs should be transferred to St. Louis County as Monsanto had previously requested and that would make the venue issue before the court moot. They also argued that the judge in St. Louis City who has been presiding over the Winston case should continue to handle the case within the county court system.
“With the withdrawal of their opposition to Monsanto’s motion, Plaintiffs have consented to the very relief that Monsanto requests of this Court – transfer of the Winston plaintiffs to St. Louis County,” the plaintiffs’ filing states. “The Winston plaintiffs’ case is trial ready. If the case is transferred to St. Louis County in short order, the Plaintiffs can begin trial on or close to the schedule currently in place.”
Whether or not a trial will still take place in mid October in St. Louis is still an open question.
Tech, Medical and Farm Groups Ask Appeals Court to Overturn Verdict Against Monsanto
Groups representing farm, medical and biotechnology interests have filed briefs with the California Court of Appeal, aligning with Monsanto in asking the court to overturn last summer’s jury verdict that found Monsanto’s glyphosate-herbicides cause cancer and determined that the company spent years covering up the risks.
The groups are urging the appeals court to either throw out the win a San Francisco jury gave to school groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson in August of 2018 or to invalidate an order for Monsanto to pay punitive damages to Johnson. The Johnson trial was the first against Monsanto over claims that its glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Johnson is one of more than 18,000 plaintiffs making similar claims. The lawsuits allege that Monsanto was aware of scientific research showing an association between its herbicides and cancer but rather than warn consumers the company worked to suppress the research and manipulate scientific literature.
The jury in the Johnson case decided Monsanto should pay $289 million in damages, including $250 million in punitive damages. The trial judge in the case later slashed the punitive damage amount, reducing the total award to $78 million. Two other juries in subsequent trials over similar claims have also found in favor of plaintiffs and ordered large punitive damages against Monsanto.
Monsanto appealed the verdict and Johnson cross-appealed, seeking reinstatement of the full $289 million. Oral arguments are expected in this appeals court this fall with a potential decision from the appeals court before the end of the year.
One of the parties filing a brief supporting Monsanto’s position is Genentech Inc., a San Francisco biotech company with a history of doing research for cancer treatments. In its appeal to the court, Genentech argues that it has expertise as a “science company” and sees the Johnson verdict as a threat to scientific progress. “Courts must ensure the proper use of science in the courtroom in order for innovation to flourish in the marketplace…” the Genentech brief states.
Genentech announced earlier this year a fast-track review from the Food and Drug Administration for a drug treatment for people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
In backing Monsanto’s appeal, Genentech echoed complaints by Monsanto that Johnson’s lawyers did not properly present expert scientific testimony: “Genentech writes to highlight the importance of the proper screening of scientific expert testimony for companies with scientifically innovative products and consumers who rely on their innovations.”
The company also sided with Monsanto on the issue of punitive damages, arguing that companies should not be subject to punitive damages if their product has been reviewed by a regulatory agency such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and found to not pose a risk to human health.
“Allowing juries to award punitive damages for products that have been specifically examined and approved by regulatory agencies creates a large risk of confusion for life-science-based companies and may deter the progress of science,” the Genentech brief states. “If such punitive damages awards are allowed, companies face the risk of massive punitive damages awards unless they routinely second guess the safety decisions of regulators.”
On Tuesday the California Farm Bureau Federation filed its own brief supporting Monsanto. The farm bureau, which says it represents 36,000 members, said the case is of “vital concern” to farmers and ranchers who “depend on crop protection tools to grow food and fiber.”
Even though the Johnson verdict does not impact the regulation of glyphosate herbicides, the farm bureau argues in its brief that the industry fears restrictions on the chemical. The farm group additionally argued that the “trial court’s decision disregards federal law, as well as state law…” because it conflicts with the EPA’s finding that glyphosate is not likely to cause cancer.
Additionally, California associations representing doctors, dentists and hospitals weighed in on behalf of Monsanto arguing that the jury’s decision in the Johnson case was “subject to emotional manipulation” and not based on “scientific consensus.”
“The answer to the complex scientific question the jury was required to resolve in this case should have been based on accepted scientific evidence and rigorous scientific reasoning, not the jury’s policy choices. Even worse, there is reason to suspect the jury’s analysis was based on speculation and emotion,” the associations said in their brief.
Johnson’s attorney, Mike Miller, said he feels “real good” about the chances of victory in the appeals court and described the brief from the California Medical Association as the “same sophomoric brief they file against every victim of negligence.”
Missouri Trial Can Proceed
In separate action in Missouri , the state’s supreme court said on Tuesday that a trial set to start Oct. 15 in the city of St. Louis can proceed as planned on behalf of plaintiff Walter Winston. Other plaintiffs who had joined in Winston’s complaint against Monsanto are expected to be severed and/or have their cases delayed, according to a decision by the Missouri Supreme Court. Monsanto had asked the high court to prohibit the trial from taking place due to the fact that several plaintiffs do not reside in the area.
The Supreme Court instructed St. Louis City Judge Michael Mullen “take no further action” at this time in the cases of the 13 plaintiffs.
Monsanto was acquired by Bayer AG in June of 2018, and Bayer’s share prices fell sharply following the Johnson verdict and have remained depressed. Investors are pressing for a global settlement to end the litigation.
Emails Reveal Science Publisher Found Papers On Herbicide Safety Should Be Retracted Due to Monsanto Meddling
Secretive influence by Monsanto in a set of papers published in the scientific journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology was so unethical that an investigation by the publisher found that at least three of the papers should be retracted, according to a series of internal journal communications. The journal editor refused to retract the papers, which declared no cancer concerns with the company’s herbicides, saying a retraction could impact last summer’s first-ever Roundup trial and harm the authors’ reputations, the emails show.
The journal communications were obtained through discovery by lawyers representing several thousand people suing Monsanto over claims that the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer and that Monsanto has covered up the evidence of the dangers.
Unlike the internal Monsanto emails that have thus far come to light revealing the agrochemical company’s manipulation of scientific literature about its herbicides, these emails detail the inner battle within a major scientific publishing house over how it should confront Monsanto’s covert meddling. They were obtained as part of a deposition of Roger McClellan, the longtime editor in chief of the peer-reviewed journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology (CRT.)
The papers in question were published by CRT in September 2016 as an “Independent Review” of the carcinogenic potential of the weed-killing agent glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and other brands. The five papers published as part of the review directly contradicted the findings of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which in 2015 found glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen. The 16 authors of the papers concluded that the weight of evidence showed the weed killer was unlikely to pose any carcinogenic risk to people.
At the end of the papers the authors stated that their conclusions were free of Monsanto’s intervention. Underscoring the supposed independence of the work, the declaration of interest section stated: “Neither any Monsanto company employees nor any attorneys reviewed any of the Expert Panel’s manuscripts prior to submission to the journal.”
That statement was proven false in the fall of 2017 after internal Monsanto records came to light showing extensive involvement by Monsanto scientists in the drafting and editing of the papers as well as company involvement in selecting the authors. Additionally, internal records showed direct payments to at least two of the so-called independent authors. Monsanto had a contract with author Larry Kier, for instance, paying him $27,400 to work on the papers.
In response to those revelations and questions from media outlets, CRT publisher Taylor & Francis Group launched an investigation in the fall of 2017. The newly released communications reveal that after spending months questioning the authors about how the papers came together, a team of legal and ethics experts put together by Taylor & Francis concluded that the authors had hidden Monsanto’s direct involvement in the papers, and had done so knowingly. Indeed, some of the authors did not even fully disclose Monsanto involvement in initial questioning by Taylor & Francis during the investigation, the emails show.
The “only tenable outcome is to retract 3 of the articles; specifically the summary, epidemiology and genotoxicity papers,” Taylor & Francis’ Charles Whalley wrote to McClellan on May 18, 2018. Whalley was managing editor of the publishing group’s medicine and health journals at the time.
The internal emails show McClellan refused to accept the idea of retraction, saying that he believed the papers were “scientifically sound” and produced “without external influence” from Monsanto. He said a retraction would tarnish the reputations of the authors, the journal and his own reputation.
“I can not agree to the proposal for retraction you have offered in your memo of May 18th, McClellan wrote in response. In a series of emails McClellan laid out his arguments against retraction, saying “Retractions of the papers would do irreparable harm to multiple parties including, most of all, the authors, the Journal , the publisher and key employees such as you and, in addition, me in my role as the Scientific Editor of CRT.”
In an email dated June 5, 2018, McClellan declared that he knew Monsanto had a “vested interest” in the publication of the papers and was personally aware of Monsanto’s relationships, including compensation agreements, with the authors, and still was satisfied that the papers were “scientifically sound.”
“In my professional opinion, the five Glyphosate papers are scholarly pieces of work clearly documenting the process used to critique the IARC report and provide an alternative hazard characterization,” McClellan wrote. “The five papers are scientifically sound. It would be a breach of scientific ethics and my own standards of scientific integrity to agree to retraction of any or all of the Glyphosate papers…”
Whalley pushed back, saying that the authors of the papers were clearly guilty of “misconduct and a breach of publishing ethics,” so severe as to warrant retraction. The “breaches of publication ethics that we have identified in this case are clear breaches of fundamental and clearly defined standards, and not attributable to misunderstandings of detail or nuance,” Whalley wrote to McClellan. He said the publisher had reviewed the guidelines from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) before making the decision. “Retractions are evidence that editorial policies are working, not that they have failed,” he wrote.
Whalley and McClellan argued over the retraction for months, the records show. In one July 22, 2018 email McClellan pointed out that the first trial against Monsanto over the Roundup cancer claims was taking place at the time so the journal discussions of a retraction were “quite sensitive since the Johnson vs. Monsanto trial is underway in San Francisco.” He suggested that instead of retracting the papers, they simply correct the section at the end of the papers where the authors disclose potential conflicts.
“I urge you to agree to my recommendation to publish corrected and expanded Declaration of Interest statements and abandon the “we gotcha” approach with Retraction of the papers,” McClellan wrote to Whalley in a July 2018 email. “I will not allow my well-earned reputation to be tarnished by arbitrary and capricious actions by others.”
“In this case, we need to collectively attempt to reach agreement on an equitable outcome that is FAIR to the authors, the publisher, CRT readers, the public and me as the Editor-in-Chief and the CRT Editorial board. We must not take an approach that determines winners and losers in legal cases based on what is allowed to appear in the peer reviewed literature,” McClellan wrote.
Neither McClellan nor Whalley responded to a request for comment regarding this article.
The CRT glyphosate series was considered so significant that its findings were widely reported by media outlets around the world and cast doubt upon the validity of the IARC classification. The papers were published at a critical time as Monsanto was facing doubts by European regulators about allowing glyphosate to remain on the market and growing unease in U.S. markets as well. The 2016 series was “widely accessed,” with one of the papers in the series accessed “over 13,000 time,” according to the internal journal correspondence.
The importance of the papers to Monsanto was laid out in a confidential document dated May 11, 2015, in which Monsanto scientists spoke of “ghost-writing” strategies that would lend credibility to the “independent” papers the company wanted to have created and then to be published by CRT. Monsanto had announced in 2015 that it was hiring Intertek Scientific & Regulatory Consultancy to put together a panel of independent scientists who would review the IARC classification of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. But the company had pledged that it would not be involved in the review.
Though Monsanto’s involvement was revealed in 2017 Taylor & Francis took no public action until September 2018 as the publisher and editor wrestled over the retraction issue. McClellan ultimately won the argument and no retractions were made. The internal emails show that Whalley notified the 16 authors of the glyphosate papers of the decision to merely publish corrections to the articles and update the declarations of interest at the end of the papers. That Aug. 31, 2018 email states:
“We note that, despite requests for full disclosure, the original Acknowledgements and Declaration of Interest statements did not fully represent the involvement of Monsanto or its employees or contractors in the authorship of the articles. As referred to in our previous memos to you, this specifically relates to the statements that:
‘Neither any Monsanto company employees nor any attorneys reviewed any of the Expert Panel’s manuscripts prior to submission to the journal.’ and that ‘The Expert Panelists were engaged by, and acted as consultants to, lntertek, and were not directly contacted by the Monsanto Company.’
“From information you have provided to us, we now believe that neither of these statements was accurate at time of submission. This is in contradiction to declarations you made on submission and to warranties you made in the Author Publishing Agreements regarding your compliance with Taylor & Francis’ policies. To provide the necessary transparency to our readers, we will publish corrections to your articles to update their respective Acknowledgements and Declaration of Interest statements as per the material you have provided.”
In September of 2018 the papers were updated to carry an “Expression of Concern” and updates to the acknowledgements and declaration of interests. But despite the findings of Monsanto’s involvement, the papers are still titled with the word “independent.”
Whalley left Taylor & Francis in October of 2018.
The journal’s handling of the matter has troubled some other scientists.
“McClellan’s comments about why he did not retract the paper was disingenuous, self-serving, and violate sound editorial practice,” said Sheldon Krimsky, a Tufts University professor and a fellow of the Hastings Center, an independent bioethics research institution. Krimsky is also associate editor for a Taylor & Francis journal called “Accountability in Research.”
Nathan Donley, a senior scientist employed by the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity said the journal’s failure to retract was a failure of transparency. “This was one of the most disgraceful events in scientific publishing that I have ever witnessed,” Donley said. “What we’re left with is an expression of concern that no one will read and a blatant misrepresentation that this was somehow an ‘independent’ endeavor. This was a win for the most powerful player in the pesticide industry, but it came at the expense of ethics in science.”
A California appeals court should reject efforts by Monsanto to overturn a jury verdict awarding millions of dollars to a school groundskeeper and approve $250 million in punitive damages the jury ordered a year ago this month in the first Roundup cancer trial, according to a brief in the case filed Monday.
The brief filed by lawyers for Dewayne “Lee” Johnson responds to arguments by Monsanto made in the appeal and cross-appeal lodged in the state appellate court. The appeal was initiated last year by Monsanto following an Aug. 10, 2018 jury decision that marked the first of three courtroom losses for the agrochemical giant and its owner Bayer AG. The jury in the Johnson case awarded $289 million in total damages, including $250 in punitive damages. The trial judge then lowered the punitive amount to $39 million for total damages of $78 million.
While Monsanto wants the entire jury decision thrown out, Johnson’s attorneys are asking for the total of $289 million to be restored by the appeals court.
Johnson is one of roughly 18,400 people suing Monsanto over allegations that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and claims that Monsanto has spent decades covering up the risks.
Both sides in the Johnson appeal are awaiting the scheduling of oral arguments, which are expected within the next couple of months. A decision by the appeals court could come before the end of the year.
The appellate decision could be pivotal. Bayer shares plummeted after the Johnson verdict and have continued to be weighed down by two more jury decisions against Monsanto in two subsequent trials. Bayer has indicated it is ready to talk about a global settlement of the Roundup cancer litigation, and a decision by the appeals court could substantially impact the direction and outcome of settlement talks.
In the brief filed Monday, Johnson’s lawyers argued that Monsanto’s conduct was so “reprehensible” as to warrant much more than a “slap on the wrist,” and cited precedent court decisions finding that punitive damage awards equal to 5 percent of a defendant’s net worth is appropriate for “minimally reprehensible behavior.”
Based on Monsanto’s stipulated net worth of $6.8 billion, the punitive damage award of $250 million equals 3.8% and is “a light punishment considering Monsanto’s highly reprehensible behavior,” lawyers for Johnson stated in their brief. The punitive damage award of $250 million “is not unreasonable and it appropriately serves California’s goals of protecting public health, deterring future corporate malfeasance and punishing Monsanto,” the brief states.
The Johnson argument goes into great detail about evidence obtained through discovery, including internal Monsanto emails in which company scientists discussed ghostwriting scientific literature, Monsanto worries about how to counter building evidence of genotoxicity with its herbicides, the company’s failure to do carcinogenicity testing of its formulations, Monsanto’s cultivation of friendly officials within the Environmental Agency (EPA) for backing, and the company’s secret payments to front groups like the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) to promote the safety of Monsanto’s herbicides.
Johnson’s attorneys say Monsanto’s deceptive conduct has been similar to that of the tobacco industry.
“The Serious, Deadly Injury Suffered by Johnson Supports a Finding that Monsanto’s Conduct Was Highly Reprehensible,” the Johnson brief states. Johnson’s terminal diagnosis and his very painful physical condition warrants the jury award of $289 million, his lawyers wrote.
“Johnson is suffering from extremely painful, disfiguring lesions all over his body, a consequence of the fatal NHL induced by Roundup,” the brief states. “In light of the high reprehensibility of Monsanto’s behavior, the deathly harm to Johnson, and the high net worth of Monsanto, the punitive damages award of $250 million dollars awarded by the jury comports with due process and should be upheld.”
Monsanto’s brief contradicts the Johnson position on every point and states that there is no legal reason to reinstate the $250 million punitive damage award. The company asserts that because the EPA and other international regulators back the safety of its herbicides, the courts should do the same.
“Monsanto had no duty to warn of a risk that, far from being a prevailing scientific view, worldwide regulators agree does not exist,” the Monsanto brief states. “Reinstatement of the $250 million punitive damage verdict would result in the largest judicially approved award of punitive damages in California history, in a case with exceedingly “thin” evidence of malice or oppression. There is no basis for an award of punitive damages in this case, much less the $250 million awarded by the jury.”
Johnson has additionally failed to establish that Roundup “actually caused his cancer,” according to Monsanto. “Even if Plaintiff introduced some evidence to support a failure-to-warn claim, the worldwide regulatory consensus that glyphosate is not carcinogenic establishes the utter lack of clear and convincing evidence that Monsanto acted with malice,” the company’s brief states.
“The jury’s unusually large compensatory award is just as flawed. It is based on a straightforward legal error—that a plaintiff can recover pain-and-suffering damages for decades beyond his life expectancy—that was induced by counsel’s flagrant attempts to inflame the jury.
“In short, virtually everything in this trial went wrong,” the Monsanto brief states. “Plaintiff is entitled to sympathy, but not to a verdict that ignores sound science, distorts the facts, and subverts controlling law.”
St. Louis Judge Denies Monsanto Bid to Delay Another Roundup Cancer Trial
Monsanto’s bid to postpone another upcoming Roundup cancer trials in St. Louis has failed – at least for the time being – as a judge has ordered that a trial set for October will proceed.
After hearing Monsanto’s argument last week seeking a continuance in the case of Walter Winston v. Monsanto, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Michael Mullen denied Monsanto’s request and said the trial would start Oct. 15. Judge Mullen said that depositions and discovery in the case should continue until Sept. 16 with the jury selection process to begin Oct. 10.
The trial, if it takes place, would be the fourth time Monsanto has had to face cancer patients in a courtroom to answer allegations that its Roundup herbicide products cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company has sought to cover up information about the risks. Monsanto lost the first three trials and juries awarded more than $2 billion in damages, although each of the three jury awards have been reduced by the trial judges.
The Winston trial would also be the first trial to take place in Monsanto’s former hometown of St. Louis. Before selling to the German company Bayer AG last year, Monsanto was one of the largest St. Louis-based employers.
A trial that had been set to start in St. Louis on Aug. 19 was delayed by court order last week, and a trial that was set to start in September has also been continued.
After the trial continuance announced last week, sources said the company and lawyers for the plaintiffs were moving into serious discussions about a potential global settlement. Currently, more than 18,000 people are suing Monsanto, all alleging they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma due to Roundup exposure and Monsanto covered up the evidence of danger. Someone falsely floated a potential settlement offer of $8 billion, causing Bayer shares to rise sharply.
Bayer has been dealing with a depressed share price and disgruntled investors ever since the Aug. 10, 2018 jury decision in the first Roundup cancer trial. The jury awarded California groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson $289 million and found that Monsanto acted with malice in suppressing information about the risks of its herbicides.
Monsanto appealed the verdict to the California Courts of Appeal, and Johnson has cross-appealed seeking to restore his $289 million award from the reduced award of $78 million set by the trial judge. That appeal is continuing and oral arguments are expected in September or October.
As for the St. Louis situation, the Winston trial could still be derailed. The case has multiple plaintiffs, including some from outside the area, and that fact could put the case in the cross-hairs of an opinion issued earlier this year by the Missouri Supreme Court, potentially tying up the Winston case indefinitely, according to legal observers.
Trump’s EPA Has “Monsanto’s Back”
In separate news, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week issued a press release to announce that it would not approve cancer warning labels required by the state of California for certain glyphosate-based herbicide products. The EPA said that labeling that states glyphosate is “known to cause cancer,” is false and illegal, and will not be allowed despite a California regulatory action ordering such labeling.
“It is irresponsible to require labels on products that are inaccurate when EPA knows the product does not pose a cancer risk. We will not allow California’s flawed program to dictate federal policy,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
California’s listing of glyphosate as a substance known to cause cancer came after the World Health Organization’s International Agency on the Research for Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate in 2015 as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
The fact that the EPA is taking this stance, and found it necessary to issue a press release, appears to validate internal Monsanto documents obtained through litigation discovery that show the EPA was believed to “have Monsanto’s back” when it comes to glyphosate.
In a report attached to a July 2018 email to Monsanto global strategy official Todd Rands, the strategic intelligence and advisory firm Hakluyt reported to Monsanto the following:
“A domestic policy adviser at the White House said, for instance: ‘We have Monsanto’s back on pesticides regulation. We are prepared to go toe-to-toe on any disputes they may have with, for example, the EU. Monsanto need not fear any additional regulation from this administration.”
Speculation Over Settlement as Roundup Cancer Trial Postponed
The mysterious delay of what was supposed to be a closely watched St. Louis showdown over claims that Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides cause cancer has stirred speculation that a settlement may be in the offing and heartened investors in Monsanto’s German owner Bayer, who feared a fourth trial loss.
The trial in St. Louis, Monsanto’s former long-time hometown, was set to begin Aug. 19 and feature live testimony from several Monsanto executives subpoenaed by the legal team representing plaintiff Sharlean Gordon. Gordon is one of roughly 18,000 plaintiffs suing Monsanto alleging not only that the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company knew about the risks but rather than warning users instead acted to suppress and manipulate scientific research.
The three previous trials, which Monsanto lost, were all held in California courts where Monsanto executives could not be compelled to testify live in front of a jury. But in St. Louis they would almost certainly be forced to appear. Plaintiff’s counsel had plans to call former Monsanto Chairman Hugh Grant, as well as company scientists William Heydens, Donna Farmer, and William Reeves. Larry Kier, a Monsanto consultant who became caught up in a ghost-writing scandal, was also on the plaintiff’s list to be called as a witness.
Bayer had its own firepower headed for St. Louis in the form of famed attorney Phil Beck. The company has tried three different legal teams for the three trials so far, adding Beck to the case this summer. Beck, of the Chicago-based Barlit Beck law firm, headed George W. Bush’s trial team in the Florida recount litigation that determined the 2000 presidential election. Beck was tapped to represent the United States in United States v. Microsoft, in one phase of the Microsoft antitrust action.
It was late Monday afternoon when St. Louis County Court Judge Brian May informed court personnel that the Gordon v. Monsanto trial would be postponed until January. May said he would issue an order at a later date, according to court spokeswoman Christine Bertelson.
Judge May is on vacation this week but wanted to make his intentions clear now because the process of gathering a jury pool for the trial was getting underway. He wanted that process halted to avoid wasting court time and resources and the time of prospective jurors given the trial was being delayed, Bertelson said.
Legal observers said the judge would not delay a trial this close to the opening unless both parties had agreed to the continuance. Neither would comment publicly on whether or not settlement talks were underway for the Gordon case.
Both parties have made it known that they wish to negotiate a global settlement in the Roundup litigation, though sources associated both with Bayer and plaintiffs’ counsel said potential settlement talks may focus initially on the Gordon case alone, or possibly Gordon’s claims along with additional St. Louis plaintiffs.
In a call with investors on July 30, Bayer CEO Werner Baumann said the company was “constructively engaging in the mediation process” and would “only consider a settlement if financially reasonable and if we can achieve finality of the overall litigation.”
Baumann has come under withering criticism for his touting of the $63 billion acquisition of Monsanto. Within only two months after closing the deal, Bayer share prices plummeted when the first Roundup cancer trial resulted in a unanimous jury verdict of $289 million against the company. Total jury awards in the three trials to date have surpassed $2 billion in punitive damages alone, though judges in the three cases have lowered the punitive awards.
Investors lodged a vote of no confidence against Baumann earlier this year due to the roughly 40 percent drop in share value attributed to the Monsanto litigation.
Investors generally would welcome a global settlement of the litigation, according to investment analysts following Bayer. There has been speculation in the analyst community that a settlement could top $10 billion.
Gordon, 52, was expected to be a particularly compelling plaintiff, according to her attorney Aimee Wagstaff. Gordon, a mother of two, has suffered multiple rounds of unsuccessful cancer treatment for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma, as the cancer has spread through her body over many years. She recently suffered a setback with a diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).
Gordon developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup herbicides for 25 years at her residence in South Pekin, Illinois. Gordon’s stepfather, who also used Roundup at the family home, died of cancer. The case is actually derived from a larger case filed in July 2017 on behalf of more than 75 plaintiffs. Gordon is the first of that group to go to trial.