In Blow to Bayer, Jury Finds Roundup Caused Plaintiff’s Cancer

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(Video update)

(Transcript of today’s proceedings)

A unanimous jury decision on Tuesday handed a first-round victory to plaintiff Edwin Hardeman, as the six jury members found that Hardeman’s exposure to Roundup was a “substantial factor” in causing his non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The jury decision means the trial now moves into a second phase in which jurors will take up the issue of liability and damages.

Jurors deliberated for nearly a week before weighing in on the one question they had to answer in the first phase of the bifurcated trial.  U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria sharply limited the evidence jurors could hear in the first phase to evidence dealing solely with general and specific causation. That meant the first phase was filled with discussions and debates over various scientific studies. The first phase mostly excluded evidence about Monsanto’s alleged actions to control or manipulate the scientific record and claims that Monsanto has worked to suppress evidence of harm with its herbicides. But such evidence will be allowed in the second phase as the jury considers the company’s conduct.

Following the verdict, Judge Chhabria told the jurors about the second phase: “The issues that you will be considering are whether Monsanto is legally liable for the harm caused to Mr. Hardeman and, if so, what the damages should be. So those are the issues that you will begin considering tomorrow.”

The verdict was a significant victory not just for Hardeman, but for the other thousands of plaintiffs around the United States who have sued Monsanto and also allege exposure to the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The company already has one loss from last summer’s jury verdict in favor of a dying California groundskeeper. Another case begins next week in nearby Oakland, California.

In response to today’s verdict, Aimee Wagstaff of Andrus Wagstaff, PC and Jennifer Moore of Moore Law Group, PLLC, co-trial counsel for the Plaintiff, issued the following statement:

 “Mr. Hardeman is pleased that the jury unanimously held that Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup. Instead, it is clear from Monsanto’s actions that it 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 and legitimate concerns about the issue. We look forward to presenting this evidence to the jury and holding Monsanto accountable for its bad conduct.”

Bayer issued a statement as well: “We are disappointed with the jury’s initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms that glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer. We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto’s conduct has been appropriate and that the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman’s cancer. Regardless of the outcome, however, the decision in phase one of this trial has no impact on future cases and trials because each one has its own factual and legal circumstances. We have great sympathy for Mr. Hardeman and his family, but an extensive body of science supports the conclusion that Roundup™ was not the cause of his cancer. Bayer stands behind these products and will vigorously defend them.”

Jury Deliberating

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(Video update)

(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.

The question that must be answered on the jury verdict form is fairly straightforward:

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.

Cancer Victim to Take the Stand (Not.)

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(Transcript from today’s proceedings)

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.

Trial Takes a Day Off

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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.

Judicial Threats and Judge Jokes

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(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.

Below is a bit more from Tuesday’s proceedings:

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.”

Reporting From Court

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Documents from Day 1 in the Hardeman trial are posted here.

See Transcript of proceedings.

See Plaintiff’s Opening Slide Deck and Monsanto’s Opening Slide Deck

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.

11:38 a.m.Evidence of the judge’s ire in opening round of federal Roundup cancer trial: pre trial order for plaintiff’s attorney to show cause why she should not be sanctioned by 8 p.m. tonight.

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 @Bayer Monsanto Roundup cancer trial.
  • Judge also tells her to “move on” when she tries to explain that @EPA only assesses glyphosate and not whole product.
  • She is allowed brief mention of @IARCWHO classification of glyphosate as probable human carcinogen but judge cuts her off before she can say much.
  • In opening statement for @Bayer Monsanto 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 @EPA memo “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.

Attorneys Scramble Ahead of Next Trial

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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.