Challenge eyed to class action plan for Bayer Roundup settlement

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A plan to delay any new Roundup cancer claims for years and shift the key question of whether or not the weed killer causes cancer from a jury to a hand-picked panel of scientists faces potential opposition from some of the plaintiffs’ attorneys who initiated and led the mass tort claims against Roundup maker Monsanto, sources close to the litigation said.

Several members of the lead law firms who won three out of three trials pitting cancer patients against Monsanto are considering challenging the terms of a proposed “class action” settlement negotiated between Monsanto owner Bayer AG and a small team of  lawyers who have not previously been at the forefront of the Roundup litigation, the sources said.

The class action settlement proposal is an element of the sweeping $10 billion Roundup litigation settlement Bayer announced June 24.

In each of the trials held to date, juries found that the weight of scientific evidence proved that Roundup exposure caused the plaintiffs to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and that Monsanto covered up the risks. But under the proposal that question would go to a five-member “science panel,” not a jury.

“It’s basically depriving a plaintiff of their constitutional right to a jury trial,” said one source close to the litigation.

The proposed class settlement would apply to anyone exposed to Roundup who had not filed a lawsuit or retained a lawyer as of June 24, 2020, regardless of whether or not that person already had been diagnosed with cancer they believe was due to Roundup exposure.

The plan was put together by Bayer and the law firms of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein; Audet & Partners; The Dugan Law Firm; and lawyer Samuel Issacharoff, Reiss Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University School of Law.

The agreement was reached after nearly one year of “unrelenting efforts” of negotiations, lawyer Elizabeth Cabraser said in a declaration to the court supporting the proposed class settlement.

It would set a “standstill period” in which plaintiffs in the class cannot file new litigation related to Roundup. And it calls for class members to release “any claims against Monsanto for punitive damages and for medical monitoring related to Roundup exposure and NHL.”

Notably, the plan states that rather than go forward with another jury trial, a panel of scientists will first be set up to determine the “right answer” to “the threshold question” of whether or not there is a causal link between Roundup and NHL.

The plan calls for Bayer to pay up to $150 million for the fees and costs of the attorneys’ involved and “class representative service awards” up to $25,000 to each or a total of $100,000.

Overall, Bayer said it would set aside $1.25 billion for the arrangement. The money would be used to compensate class members diagnosed with NHL for the “effects of the delay” in litigation, and to fund research into the diagnosis and treatment of NHL, among other things.

A motion seeking preliminary approval of the class settlement was filed Wednesday with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to be handled by Judge Vince Chhabria. Chhabria has been overseeing numerous Roundup lawsuits that have been bundled together as multidistrict litigation. In shepherding a large number of the lawsuits already filed, Chhabria oversaw one of the Roundup trials, as well as what is known as a “Daubert” hearing, in which he heard days of scientific testimony from both sides and then decided there was sufficient scientific evidence of causation for the litigation to proceed.

The class settlement proposal was negotiated separately from the main settlement made with the lead law firms.

In the main settlement, Bayer agreed to provide $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion to resolve roughly 75 percent of the roughly 125,000 filed and unfiled claims brought by plaintiffs who blame exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup for their development of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  Lawyers representing more than 20,000 additional plaintiffs say they have not agreed to settle with Bayer and those lawsuits are expected to continue to work their way through the court system.

Even though Monsanto lost each of the three trials held to date, Bayer maintain the jury decisions were flawed and based on emotion and not sound science.

Science Panel Selection

Bayer and the lawyers for the proposed class would work together to select the five scientists to sit on what would be a “neutral, independent” panel, according to the plan.  If they cannot agree on the make-up of the panel then each side will choose two members and those four members will choose the fifth.

No scientist who acted as an expert in the federal multidistrict Roundup litigation will be allowed to be on the panel. Notably, neither will anyone who “communicated with any expert” in the litigation about the subject matter.

The panel would have four years to review scientific evidence but can petition for an extension of time if necessary. The determination would be binding on both sides, the plan states. If the panel determines there is a causal link between Roundup and NHL, plaintiffs can go forward to seek trials of their individual claims.

“Knowledge is power and this Settlement empowers class members to hold Monsanto accountable for their injuries if and when the Science Panel determines that general causation is satisfied,” the plan states.

The filing with the federal court requests a preliminary approval hearing within 30 days.

Panicked chemical giants seek leeway in court ban on their weed killers

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Citing an “emergency,” chemical giants BASF and DuPont have asked a federal court to allow them to intervene in a case in which the court earlier this month ordered their dicamba herbicides to be immediately banned along with a dicamba product made by Monsanto owner Bayer AG.

The action by the chemical companies follows a June 3 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had violated the law when it approved the dicamba products developed by Monsanto/Bayer, BASF and DuPont, owned by Corteva Inc.

The court ordered an immediate ban on use of each of the company’s dicamba products, finding that the EPA “substantially understated the risks” of the dicamba herbicides and “failed entirely to acknowledge other risks.”

The EPA flouted that order, however, telling farmers they could continue to spray the herbicides in question through the end of July.

The consortium of farm and consumer groups that originally filed the case against the EPA rushed back to court last week, asking for an emergency order holding the EPA in contempt.  The court gave the EPA until the end of the day Tuesday, June 16, to respond.

Uproar in Farm Country

The order banning the companies’ dicamba products has triggered an uproar in farm country because many soybean and cotton farmers planted millions of acres of dicamba-tolerant crops developed by Monsanto with the intent of treating weeds in those fields with the dicamba herbicides made by the three companies.

The “dicamba crop system” provides for farmers to plant their fields with dicamba-tolerant crops, which they can then spray “over-the-top” with dicamba weed killer. The system has both enriched the companies selling the seeds and chemicals and and helped farmers growing the special dicamba-tolerant cotton and soy deal with stubborn weeds that are resistant to glyphosate-based Roundup products.

But for the large number of farmers who do not plant the genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant crops, widespread use of dicamba herbicides has meant damage and crop losses because dicamba tends to volatize and drift long distances where it can kill crops, trees and shrubs that are not genetically altered to withstand the chemical.

The companies claimed their new versions of dicamba would not volatize and drift as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do. But those assurances proved false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage. More than one million acres of crop damage was reported last year in 18 states, the federal court noted in its ruling.

Many farmers initially celebrated the court ruling and were relieved that their farms and orchards would be spared this summer from the dicamba damage they’ve experienced in prior summers. But the relief was short-lived when the EPA said it would not immediately enforce the court-ordered ban.

In a filing made Friday, BASF pleaded with the court not to enforce an immediate ban and told the court that it will need to close a manufacturing facility in Beaumont, Texas, that currently “operates 24 hours a day nearly continuously through the year” if it is not able to produce its dicamba herbicide brand called Engenia. BASF has spent $370 million in recent years improving the plant and employs 170 people there, the company said.

Noting “significant investments” in its product, BASF also told the court that there is enough of its product currently throughout its “customer channel” to treat 26.7 million acres of soybeans and cotton.  BASF has an additional $44 million worth of the Engenia dicamba product in its possession, enough to treat 6.6 million acres of soybeans and cotton, the company said.

DuPont/Corteva made a similar argument, telling the court in its filing that the ban “directly harms” the company “as well as the many farmers across this country that are in the midst of the growing season.”  It will damage the company’s “reputation” if its herbicide is banned, the company told the court.

Moreover, DuPont/Corteva expects to generate “significant revenues” from the sales of its dicamba herbicide, called FeXapan and will lose that money if the ban is enforced, the company said.

Monsanto was active in the case supporting the EPA approvals prior to the ruling, but both BASF and DuPont asserted wrongly that the court case applied only to Monsanto’s products and not to theirs. The court made it clear, however, that the EPA illegally approved the products made by all three companies.

Led by the Center for Food Safety,  the petition against the EPA was also brought by the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Biological Diversity, and Pesticide Action Network North America.

In asking the court to find the EPA in contempt, the consortium warned of the crop damage to come if the dicamba products are not banned immediately.

“EPA cannot get away with allowing the spraying of 16 million more pounds of dicamba and resulting damage to millions of acres, as well as significant risks to hundreds of endangered species,” the consortium said in its filing. “Something else is at stake too: the rule of law. The Court must act to prevent injustice and uphold the integrity of the judicial process. And given the blatant
disregard EPA showed for the Court’s decision, Petitioners urge the Court to hold EPA in contempt.”

Appeals court hears arguments over Monsanto’s first Roundup trial loss

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A California jury decision blaming a Monsanto herbicide for a school groundskeeper’s cancer was deeply flawed and incompatible with the law, a Monsanto attorney told a panel of appellate judges on Tuesday.

The company’s glyphosate-based herbicides – popularly known as Roundup – have the full backing of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and “regulators around the world,” attorney David Axelrad told judges with the California Court of Appeal First Appellate District.

Axelrad said Monsanto had no duty to warn anyone about an alleged cancer risk given the regulatory consensus that its weed killers are safe.

It is “fundamentally unfair to hold Monsanto liable and punish it for a product label that accurately reflects not only EPA determination but a worldwide consensus that glyphosate is not carcinogenic,” he argued in the hour-long hearing. The proceeding was held by telephone because of COVID-19 restrictions on courthouse access.

Associate Justice Gabriel Sanchez questioned the validity of that argument:  “You have animal studies… mechanism studies, you have control case studies,” he said, addressing Monsanto’s attorney. “There are a  number of, it seems, published peer reviewed studies… that suggest a statistically significant relationship between glyphosate and lymphoma. So I don’t know that I would agree with you that it has unanimous consensus. Certainly the regulatory agencies seem to be on one side. But there is a lot of other evidence on the other. ”

The appeal stems from the 2018 jury decision in San Francisco Superior Court that ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million to Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, including $250 million in punitive damages.

The trial judge in the Johnson case lowered the award to $78.5 million. But Monsanto appealed the verdict, asking the court to either reverse the trial decision and enter a judgment for Monsanto or reverse and remand the case for a new trial or at least sharply reduce the damages.  Johnson cross-appealed seeking reinstatement of the full jury award.

Johnson is one of tens of thousands of people from around the United States who have sued Monsanto alleging Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides made by the company cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company spent decades covering up the risks.

Johnson gained “preference” status because doctors said his life expectancy was short and that he would likely die within 18 months of the trial. Johnson has confounded the doctors and remains alive and undergoing regular treatments.

Monsanto’s loss to Johnson marked the first of three Roundup trial losses for the company, which was acquired by Germany’s Bayer AG in June 2018 just as the Johnson trial started.

The jury in the Johnson case specifically found – among other things – that Monsanto was negligent in failing to warn Johnson of the cancer risk of its herbicides. But Monsanto argues that the verdict was flawed because of exclusion of key evidence and what the company’s attorneys call the “distortion of reliable science.”

If the appeals court does not order a new trial, Monsanto asked that the judges at least reduce the portion of the jury award for “future noneconomic damages” from $33 million to $1.5 million and to wipe out the punitive damages altogether.

Johnson’s trial attorneys had argued that he should get $1 million a year for pain and suffering over the 33 additional years that he would likely live if he had not gotten cancer.

But Monsanto’s attorneys have said Johnson should get only $1 million a year for pain and suffering during his actual life expectancy or $1.5 million for an 18-month expected future span.

On Tuesday, Axelrad reiterated that point: “Sure a plaintiff can recover during his lifetime for the pain and suffering that might be occasioned by knowing that he has a shortened life expectancy,” he told the judicial panel. “But you cannot recover for pain and suffering that is unlikely to occur in years where you will no longer be living and that is what the plaintiff received in this case.”

Axelrad told the justices that the company had been falsely painted as engaging in misconduct but in fact had properly followed the science and the law. He said, for example, though Johnson’s attorney had accused Monsanto of ghost-writing scientific papers, company scientists had only made “editorial suggestions” for several papers published in the scientific literature.

“Whether or not Monsanto could have been more forthcoming in identifying its involvement in those studies the bottom line is that those studies produced no false or misleading information and there is no indication that any of the authors of those studies would have changed their opinion had Monsanto not provided editorial comment,” he said.

Axelrad said there was no malice and no basis for punitive damages to be leveled against Monsanto. The company’s defense of its glyphosate-based herbicides over the years has been “entirely reasonable and in good faith,” he said.

“There is absolutely no evidence that Monsanto distributed false, misleading or incomplete information, no evidence that its actions prevented the dissemination of information to regulatory agencies needed to review the scientific evidence, no evidence that its actions compromised the ultimate regulatory decision making and no evidence that Monsanto refused to conduct a test or study in order to conceal information about a risk of harm or prevent the discovery of new information about the science of glyphosate,” he said.

Johnson attorney Mike Miller said that Monsanto’s lawyers were attempting to get the appellate court to retry the facts of the case, which is not its role.

“Monsanto misunderstands the appellate function. It is not to reweigh the facts. The facts that were just argued by Monsanto’s counsel were rejected thoroughly by the jury and rejected by the trial judge…” Miller said.

The appellate court should uphold the damages the jury awarded, including the punitive damages,  because Monsanto’s conduct surrounding the science and safety of its glyphosate herbicides was “egregious,” Miller said.

The evidence presented at the Johnson trial showed Monsanto engaged in the ghostwriting of scientific papers while it failed to adequately test its formulated glyphosate herbicides for carcinogenicity risks. The company then initiated “unprecedented” attacks on the credibility of  international cancer scientists who classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015, he told the judicial panel.

“In punitive damages, as you assess the reprehensibility of Monsanto you must factor in the wealth of Monsanto. And the award must be enough to sting,” said Miller. “Under California law unless it changes the conduct it hasn’t fit the purpose of punitive damages.”

The appellate panel has 90 days to issue a ruling.

Appeal in first Monsanto Roundup cancer trial to be heard in June

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A California appeals court has set a June hearing for cross appeals resulting from the first-ever trial over  allegations that Monsanto’s herbicides cause cancer.

The United States Court of Appeal First Appellate District said Thursday that it was setting a hearing for June 2 in the case of Dewayne “Lee” Johnson v. Monsanto. The hearing will take place nearly two years after the start of the Johnson trial and also two years after Bayer AG bought Monsanto.

A unanimous jury awarded Johnson $289 million in August 2018, including $250 million in punitive damages, finding that not only did Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause Johnson to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but that the company knew of the cancer risks and failed to warn Johnson.

The trial judge lowered the total verdict to $78 million but Monsanto appealed the reduced amount. Johnson cross appealed to reinstate the $289 million verdict.

In preparing for oral arguments on the Johnson appeal, the appellate court said it was rejecting an application by the California Attorney General to file an amicus brief on Johnson’s side.

The Johnson trial was covered by media outlets around the world and put a spotlight on questionable Monsanto conduct. Lawyers for Johnson presented jurors with internal company emails and other records showing Monsanto scientists discussing ghostwriting scientific papers to try to shore up support for the safety of the company’s products, along with communications detailing plans to discredit critics, and to quash a government evaluation of the toxicity of glyphosate, the key chemical in Monsanto’s products.

Internal documents also showed that Monsanto expected the International Agency for Research on Cancer would classify glyphosate as a probable or possible human carcinogen in March of 2015 (the classification was as a probable carcinogen) and worked out a plan in advance to discredit the cancer scientists.

Tens of thousands of plaintiffs have filed suit against Monsanto making claims similar to Johnson’s, and two additional trials have taken place since the Johnson trial. Both those trials also resulted in large verdicts against Monsanto.

In setting Johnson’s appeal date, the appellate court said it “recognizes the time-sensitive nature of these consolidated cases and has continued to give them its highest priority despite current emergency conditions” created by the spread of coronavirus.

The appellate court movement on the Johnson case comes as Bayer is reportedly trying to renege on negotiated settlements with several U.S. law firms representing many of those plaintiffs.

Attorney for Roundup Cancer Plaintiffs Arrested on Criminal Charges

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The legal drama surrounding the mass tort Roundup cancer litigation just got ratcheted up a notch.

Federal criminal charges were filed this week against attorney Timothy Litzenburg alleging the 37-year-old lawyer demanded $200 million in “consulting fees” in exchange for keeping quiet about information that he threatened would be potentially devastating to a chemical compound supplier to Monsanto.

Litzenburg was charged with one count each of attempted extortion, conspiracy and transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort. He was arrested Tuesday but has been released on bond.

Litzenburg was the attorney for Dewayne “Lee” Johnson leading up to Johnson’s 2018 trial against Monsanto, which resulted in a $289 million jury award in Johnson’s favor. The trial was the first of three that have taken place against Monsanto over allegations that the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Monsanto, and its German owner Bayer AG, have lost all three trials to date but are appealing the verdicts.

Though Litzenburg had been responsible for preparing Johnson for trial, he was not allowed to participate during the actual event because of concerns about his behavior held by The Miller Firm, which was his employer at the time.

The Miller firm subsequently fired Litzenburg and filed a lawsuit alleging Litzenburg engaged in self-dealing, and “disloyal and erratic conduct.” Litzenburg responded with a counter-claim. The parties recently negotiated a confidential settlement.

The new trouble for Litzenburg came in the form of a criminal complaint filed Monday in federal court in Virginia. The complaint does not name the company Litzenburg was demanding money from, referring  to it as “Company 1.”  According to the charges, Litzenburg contacted Company 1 in September of this year stating that he was preparing a lawsuit that would allege Company 1 and related companies supplied chemical compounds used by Monsanto to create its branded Roundup herbicide and that Company 1 knew the ingredients were carcinogenic but had failed to warn the public. He also attempted to involve an entity referred to in the complaint as Company 2, described by prosecutors as a U.S.  publicly traded company that bought Company 1 in 2018.

Earlier this year Litzenburg  told US Right to Know that he was drafting such a complaint against chemical supplier Huntsman International  and related entities, but it is not clear if Huntsman is involved in this action.

Litzenburg, who is now a partner with the firm of Kincheloe, Litzenburg & Pendleton, did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did his law partner Dan Kincheloe.  Litzenburg has claimed to be representing roughly 1,000 clients suing Monsanto over Roundup cancer causation allegations.

According to the complaint, Litzenburg told a lawyer for Company 1 that he believed if he filed an initial lawsuit many more would follow. To prevent that, Company 1 could enter into a “consulting arrangement” with Litzenburg, the lawyer allegedly told the company. As a consultant Litzenburg would have a conflict of interest that would prevent him from filing the threatened litigation.

According to information the complaint states was provided by an attorney for Company 1, Litzenburg said he would need a $5 million settlement of the drafted lawsuit and a consulting arrangement for $200 million for himself and an associate.  The criminal complaint states that Litzenburg put the terms of his demand in writing in an email to the company attorney, warning that if the company did not comply, Litzenburg would create “Roundup Two,” which would cause “an ongoing and exponentially growing problem” for Company 1.

Litzenburg wrote in the email that the $200 million consulting agreement for himself and an associate was “a very reasonable price,” according to the criminal complaint. At least two such “associates” were involved in the scheme, according to the complaint.

The attorney for Company 1 contacted the U.S. Department of Justice in October and investigators subsequently recorded a phone call with Litzenburg discussing the $200 million he was seeking, the complaint states.

According to the complaint, Litzenburg was recorded as saying: “The way that I guess you guys will think about it and we’ve thought about it too is savings for your side. I don’t think if this gets filed and turns into mass tort, even if you guys win cases and drive value down… I don’t think there’s any way you get out of it for less than a billion dollars. And so, you know, to me, uh, this is a fire sale price that you guys should consider…”

During other communications with Company 1, Litzenburg allegedly said that if he received the $200 million, he was willing to “take a dive” during a civil deposition of a Company 1 toxicologist to undermine the prospects for future plaintiffs to try to sue the company.

If Company 1 entered into a deal with him, Litzenburg allegedly said, it would mean Company 1 would “avoid the parade of horribles that has been the Roundup litigation for Bayer/Monsanto.”

Prosecuting the case for the U.S. Department of Justice are Assistant Chief L. Rush Atkinson and Principal Assistant Chief Henry P. Van Dyck of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

UPDATED- St. Louis Trial over Monsanto Roundup Cancer Claims in Limbo

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(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

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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.

St. Louis Roundup Cancer Trial Reset for January, Talk of Bayer Settlement

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The much-anticipated Roundup cancer trial set to get underway in two weeks in Monsanto’s former hometown of St. Louis is being rescheduled,  according to the a spokeswoman for the St. Louis County Court where the trial was set to begin Aug 19.

Court spokeswoman Christine Bertelson said Judge Brian May, who is overseeing the case of Gordon v. Monsanto, communicated late Monday that the trial was being continued, but no official order has yet been entered into the court file.  Jury questionnaires were due next week and the voir dire selection of the jury was set for Aug. 18 with opening statements Aug. 19.

Judge May is rescheduling the trial for January and will issue an order within the next few days, according to Bertelson.

Aimee Wagstaff, lead attorney for plaintiff Sharlean Gordon, said that a continuance was a possibility but nothing official was determined at this point.

“The judge has not entered an order continuing the trial,” Wagstaff said. “Of course, as with every trial, a continuance is always a possibility for factors often outside control of the parties. Ms. Gordon is ready to try her case on August 19 and will be disappointed if the case is in fact continued. We are ready on whatever day the trial does commence.”

Gordon developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup herbicides for 25 years at her residence in South Pekin, Illinois. Gordon has suffered extensive debilitation due to her disease. Gordon’s stepfather, who also used Roundup at the family home where Gordon lived into adulthood,  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.

Before selling to Germany-based Bayer AG last summer, Monsanto was headquartered in the St. Louis, Missouri area for decades, and still maintains a large employment and philanthropic presence there. Bayer recently announced it would add 500 new jobs to the St. Louis area.

Last week, Judge May denied Monsanto’s motion seeking a summary judgment in favor of Monsanto, and denied the company’s bid to exclude plaintiff’s expert witnesses.

Bayer has been under great pressure to settle the cases, or at least avoid the specter of another high-profile courtroom loss after losing all three of the first Roundup cancer trials. The company is currently facing more than 18,000 plaintiffs alleging that exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup, caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The lawsuits allege that Monsanto knew of the cancer risk but failed to warn users and worked to suppress scientific information about the cancer risk.

It is not uncommon for parties to discuss a potential settlement ahead of trial, and it would not be surprising for Bayer to offer a settlement for the Gordon case alone given the negative publicity that has been associated with each of the three trials. Evidence publicized through the trials has exposed years of secretive conduct by Monsanto that juries have found warranted more than $2 billion in punitive damages. The judges in the cases have also been harshly critical of what the evidence has shown about Monsanto’s conduct.

U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria said this about the company: “There’s a fair amount of evidence that the only thing Monsanto cared about was undermining the people who were raising concerns about whether Roundup caused cancer. Monsanto didn’t seem concerned at all about getting at the truth of whether glyphosate caused cancer.”

Last week, Bloomberg reported that Bayer AG Chief Executive Officer Werner Baumann said he would consider a “financially reasonable” settlement. The company’s shares have plummeted since the first jury verdict came down Aug. 10 awarding $289 million to California school groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson. Monsanto has appealed the verdict.

Some legal observers said that Bayer could be angling to delay the trial and/or simply distract plaintiff’s attorneys with settlement speculation.

Judge Cuts Amount Monsanto Owner Bayer Owes Cancer Victim

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A federal judge has slashed the punitive damages a jury ordered Monsanto to pay to cancer victim Edwin Hardeman from $75 million to $20 million, despite the judge’s description of Monsanto’s conduct surrounding questions about the safety of its Roundup herbicide as “reprehensible.”

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria ruled Monday that the jury’s decision in the Hardeman case to award punitive damages of $75 million was “constitutionally impermissible.” By lowering it to $20 million, combined with the compensatory damages awarded by the jury, the total the agrochemical company owes Hardeman is $25,267,634.10, the judge said. The original verdict handed down by the six-member jury was $80 million.

Judge Chhabria had many harsh words for Monsanto, which was purchased last year by Bayer AG. He wrote in his ruling that the “evidence presented at trial about Monsanto’s behavior betrayed a lack of concern about the risk that its product might be carcinogenic.”

“Despite years of colorable claims in the scientific community that Roundup causes NHL, Monsanto presented minimal evidence suggesting that it was interested in getting to the bottom of those claims… While Monsanto repeatedly intones that it stands by the safety of its product, the evidence at trial painted the picture of a company focused on attacking or undermining the people who raised concerns, to the exclusion of being an objective arbiter of Roundup’s safety,” Judge Chhabria said in his ruling.

“For example, while the jury was shown emails of Monsanto employees crassly attempting to combat, undermine or explain away challenges to Roundup’s safety, not once was it shown an email suggesting that Monsanto officials were actively committed to conducting an objective assessment of its product. Moreover, because the jury was aware that Monsanto has repeatedly sold – and continues to sell – Roundup without any form of warning label, it was clear that Monsanto’s “conduct involved repeated actions,” rather than “an isolated incident,” the judge wrote.

Judge Chhabria did offer some supportive words for Monsanto’s position, writing that there was no evidence that Monsanto actually hid evidence from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or “had managed to capture the EPA.”

And, the judge noted that no evidence was presented showing that Monsanto “was in fact aware that glyphosate caused cancer but concealed it, thus distinguishing this case from the many cases adjudicating the conduct of the tobacco companies.”

The Hardeman case is one of thousands pending against Monsanto for which Bayer is liable after purchasing the company in June of 2018. Since the purchase, four plaintiffs in three trials have won damages against the company. All allege they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup. They additionally allege that the company knew of scientific evidence showing cancer risks associated with its products, but worked to suppress the information to protect its profits.

Michael Baum, one of the team of attorneys leading the Roundup litigation, said the judge’s decision was wrong.

“The Hardeman jurors carefully weighed the evidence and rendered a rational verdict in line with well recognized jury instructions and case law. There is no valid basis for disturbing their punitive damages award—why bother having jurors sacrifice weeks of their lives if a judge can just substitute his judgment for theirs despite so much evidence supporting their conclusions,” Baum said in a statement.