UPDATED -Court overturns EPA approval of Bayer dicamba herbicide; says regulator “understated the risks”

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(UPDATES with statement from BASF)

In a stunning rebuke of the Environmental Protection Agency, a federal court on Wednesday overturned the agency’s approval of popular dicamba-based herbicides made by chemical giants Bayer, BASF and Corteva Agrisciences. The ruling effectively makes it illegal for farmers to continue to use the product.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the EPA “substantially understated the risks” of the dicamba herbicides and “failed entirely to acknowledge other risks.”

“The EPA made multiple errors in granting the conditional registrations,” the court ruling states.

Monsanto and the EPA had asked the court, if it did agree with the plaintiffs, not to immediately overturn the approvals of the weed killing products. The court said simply: “We decline to do so.”

The lawsuit was brought by the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity, and Pesticide Action Network North America.

The plaintiffs accused the EPA of breaking the law in evaluating the impacts of a system designed by Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer in 2018, that has triggered “widespread” crop damage over the last few summers and continues to threaten farms across the country.

“Today’s decision is a massive win for farmers and the environment,” said George Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, lead counsel in the case. “It is good to be reminded that corporations like Monsanto and the Trump Administration cannot escape the rule of law, particularly at a time of crisis like this. Their day of reckoning has arrived.”

The court found that among other problems, the EPA “refused to estimate the amount of dicamba damage, characterizing such damage as ‘potential’ and ‘alleged,’ when record evidence showed that dicamba had caused substantial and undisputed damage.”

The court also found that the EPA failed to acknowledge that restrictions it placed on the use of the dicamba herbicides would not be followed,  and it determined that the EPA “entirely failed to acknowledge the substantial risk that the registrations would have anticompetitive economic effects in the soybean and cotton industries.”

Finally, the court said, the EPA entirely failed to acknowledge the risk that the new use of dicamba herbicides set up by Monsanto, BASF and Corteva would “tear the social fabric of farming communities.”

Farmers have been using dicamba herbicides for more than 50 years but traditionally avoided applying the herbicide during hot summer months, and rarely if ever over large swaths of land due to the well-known propensity of the chemical to drift far from intended target areas where it could damage crops, gardens, orchards, and shrubs.

Monsanto upended that restraint when it launched dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds a few years ago, encouraging farmers to spray new formulations of dicamba “over the top” of these genetically engineered crops during warm-weather growing months.

Monsanto’s move to create genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant crops came after its glyphosate-tolerant crops and widespread spraying of glyphosate created an epidemic of weed resistance across U.S. farmland.

Farmers, agricultural scientists and other experts warned Monsanto and the EPA that introducing a dicamba-tolerant system would not only create more herbicide resistance but would lead to devastating damage to crops that are not genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba.

Despite the warnings, Monsanto, along with BASF and Corteva AgriScience all gained approval from the EPA to market new formulations of dicamba herbicides for this widespread type of spraying. 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 have proven false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage since the introduction of the new dicamba-tolerant crops and the new dicamba herbicides. More than one million acres of crop damage was reported last year in 18 states, the court noted.

As predicted, there have been thousands of dicamba damage complaints recorded in multiple states. In its ruling, the court noted that in 2018, out of 103 million acres of soybeans and cotton planted in the United States, about 56 million acres were planted with seeds with Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerance trait, up from 27 million acres the year before in 2017.

In February, a unanimous jury awarded a Missouri peach farmer $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages to be paid by Bayer and BASF for dicamba damage to his property.

Bayer issued a statement following the ruling saying it strongly disagreed with the court ruling and was assessing its options.

“The EPA’s informed science-based decision reaffirms that this tool is vital for growers and does not pose any unreasonable risks of off-target movement when used according to label directions,” the company said. “If the ruling stands, we will work quickly to minimize any impact on our customers this season.”

Corteva also said its dicamba herbicides were needed farmer tools and that it was assessing its options.

BASF called the court order “unprecedented” and said it “has the potential to be devastating to tens of thousands of farmers.”

Farmers could lose “significant revenue” if they are not able to kill weeds in their soybean and cotton fields with the dicamba herbicides, the company said.

“We will use all legal remedies available to challenge this Order,” BASF said.

An EPA spokesman said the agency was currently reviewing the court decision and “will move promptly to address the Court’s directive.”

The court acknowledged the decision could be costly for farmers who have already purchased and/or planted dicamba-tolerant seeds for this season and planned to use the dicamba herbicides on them because the ruling disallows that herbicide use.

“We acknowledge the difficulties these growers may have in finding effective and legal herbicides to protect their (dicamba-tolerant) crops…” the ruling states. “They have been placed in this situation through no fault of their own. However, the absence of substantial evidence to support the EPA’s decision compels us to vacate the registrations.”

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.

Dicamba: Farmers fear another season of crop damage; court ruling awaited

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With the turn of the calendar to June, farmers in the U.S. Midwest are wrapping up the planting of new soybean crops and tending to growing fields of young corn plants and vegetable plots. But many are also bracing to be hit by an invisible enemy that has wreaked havoc in farm country the last few summers – the chemical weed killer dicamba.

Jack Geiger, a certified organic farmer in Robinson, Kansas, describes the last few summer growing seasons as characterized by “chaos,” and said he partially lost certification for one field of organic crops due to contamination with dicamba sprayed from afar. Now he is pleading with neighbors who spray the weed killer on their fields to make sure the chemical stays off his property.

“There is dicamba everywhere,” Geiger said.

Geiger is only one of hundreds of farmers around the U.S. Midwest and several southern states who have reported crop damages and losses they claim were caused by drifting dicamba over the last few years.

Farmers have been using dicamba herbicides for more than 50 years but traditionally avoided applying the herbicide during hot summer months, and rarely if ever over large swaths of land due to the well-known propensity of the chemical to drift far from intended target areas.

That restraint was reversed after Monsanto launched dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds to encourage farmers to spray new formulations of dicamba “over the top” of these genetically engineered crops. Monsanto, which is now owned by Bayer AG, along with BASF and Corteva AgriScience all gained approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to market new formulations of dicamba herbicides for spraying over the tops of growing dicamba-tolerant crops. 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 have proven false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage since the introduction of the new dicamba-tolerant crops and the new dicamba herbicides.

A consortium of farmer and consumer groups sued the EPA over its backing of the over-the-top use of the dicamba herbicides and is now awaiting a ruling by the ninth circuit court of appeals in San Francisco regarding their demand that the court overturn the EPA’s approval of the three company’s herbicides. Oral arguments were held in April.

The consumer and environmental groups allege the EPA broke the law by failing to analyze the “significant socioeconomic and agronomic costs to farmers” leading to “catastrophic” levels of crop damage.

The groups say the EPA seems more interested in protecting the business interests of Monsanto and the other companies than in protecting farmers.

Lawyers for Monsanto, representing the company as a unit of Bayer, said the plaintiffs have no credible argument. The company’s new dicamba herbicide, called XtendiMax, “has assisted growers in addressing a significant nationwide weed resistance problem, and soybean and cotton yields have hit record highs nationwide during this litigation,” according to a brief filed by the company’s lawyers on May 29.

“Petitioners’ request for an order immediately halting all sales and uses of the pesticide invites legal error and potentially disastrous real-world impacts,” the company said.

As they await the federal court’s decision, farmers are hoping that new restrictions put in place by some states will protect them. The Illinois Department of Agriculture has advised applicators that they can’t spray after June 20, that they should not spray dicamba products if the temperature is over 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and that they should only apply dicamba when the wind is blowing away from “sensitive” areas. Minnesota, Indiana, North Dakota and South Dakota are among other states putting in place cut-off dates for spraying dicamba.

Steve Smith, director of agriculture at Red Gold Inc, the world’s largest canned tomato processor, said even with the state restrictions he is “extremely concerned” about the upcoming season. More acres of being planting with the dicamba-tolerant soybeans developed by Monsanto so it is likely there will be more dicamba being sprayed, he said.

“We’ve worked hard to keep the message out there of not to get close to us, but someone, sometime, is going to make a mistake that could seriously cost us our business,”  he said.

Smith said he is hopeful the court will overturn the EPA approval and “stop this insanity of a system.”

Separately from the potential dicamba damage to crops, new research was recently published showing that farmers exposed to high levels of dicamba appear to have elevated risks of liver and other types of cancer.  Researchers said the new data showed that an association previously seen in the data between dicamba and lung and colon cancers was “no longer apparent” with the updated data.

Fresh talk of a settlement between Bayer and Roundup cancer patients

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There was renewed talk of a potential settlement this week between Bayer AG and tens of thousands of cancer patients as a key court hearing looms next week.

According to a report in Bloomberg, lawyers for Bayer have reached verbal agreements with U.S. lawyers representing at least 50,000 plaintiffs who are suing Monsanto over claims that Roundup and other Monsanto herbicides caused the plaintiffs to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The details as reported by Bloomberg appear to be mostly unchanged from prior verbal agreements between Bayer and plaintiffs’ attorneys that fell apart during the Coronavirus-related courthouse closings. With the courthouses still closed, trial dates have been postponed, taking the pressure off Bayer.

But a new pressure point looms with next week’s hearing in the appeal of the first Roundup cancer trial. The California Court of Appeal First Appellate District is set to hear oral arguments on cross-appeals in the case of Johnson v Monsanto  on June 2.

That case, which pitted California groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson against Monsanto, resulted in a $289 million damage award for Johnson in August 2018. The jury found not only that Monsanto’s Roundup and related glyphosate-based brands presented a substantial danger to people using them, but that there was “clear and convincing evidence” that Monsanto’s officials acted with “malice or oppression” in failing to adequately warn of the risks.

The trial judge in the Johnson case later lowered the damages to $78.5 million. Monsanto appealed even the reduced award, and Johnson cross-appealed seeking reinstatement of the full jury award.

In appealing the verdict, Monsanto asked the court to either reverse the trial decision and enter a judgment for Monsanto or reverse and remand the case for a new trial. At the very least, Monsanto asked the appeals court to 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.

The appeals court judges gave an early hint about how they were leaning on the case, notifying lawyers for the two sides that they should be prepared to discuss the question of damages in the June 2 hearing. Plaintiffs’ attorneys have taken that as an encouraging sign that the judges may not be planning to order a new trial.

Under the terms of the settlement that has been discussed for the last several months, Bayer would pay out a total of $10 billion to bring closure to cases held by several large firms, but would not agree to put warning labels on its glyphosate-based weed killers, as had been demanded by some of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

The settlement would not cover all of the plaintiffs with pending claims. Nor would it cover Johnson or the other three plaintiffs who already won their claims at trial. Monsanto and Bayer have appealed all the trial losses.

Lawyers at the major firms involved in the litigation declined to discuss the current situation.

Bayer officials have denied there is any scientific evidence linking glyphosate herbicides to cancer, but investors have been pushing for a settlement to resolve the litigation. It would be beneficial to Bayer to settle the cases before any adverse ruling by the appellate court, which could further rattle the company’s shareholders. Bayer bought Monsanto in June of 2018. Following the Johnson trial loss in August 2018, the company’s share price plummeted and has remained under pressure.

Frustrated Plaintiffs

The first lawsuits in the Roundup cancer litigation were filed in late 2015, meaning many plaintiffs have been waiting years for resolution. Some plaintiffs have died while they waited, with their cases now being carried forward by family members frustrated at the lack of progress in bringing cases to a close.

Some plaintiffs have been making video messages directed at Bayer executives, calling for them to agree to settlements and to make changes to warn consumers about potential cancer risks of glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup.

Vincent Tricomi, 68, is one such plaintiff. In the video he made, which he shared with US Right to Know, he said he has undergone 12 rounds of chemotherapy and five hospital stays fighting his cancer. After achieving a temporary remission, the cancer recurred earlier this year, he said.

“There are so many like me who are suffering and need relief,” said Tricomi.  Watch his video message below:

Appeals court focused on damages question ahead of Johnson v. Monsanto hearing

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A California appeals court looks poised to issue a ruling that would uphold the first U.S. trial victory involving allegations that Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer causes cancer.

The California Courts of Appeal First Appellate District on Wednesday notified lawyers for plaintiff Dewayne “Lee” Johnson and legal counsel for Monsanto that they should be prepared to focus on the question of damages awarded in the case at a hearing scheduled for June 2.

The fact that the court is showing it is interested in discussing what amount of damages are appropriate rather than issues pertaining to Monsanto’s request to overturn the trial loss entirely bodes well for the plaintiff’s side, said legal observers.

Monsanto August 2018 loss to Johnson, a California school groundskeeper, marked the first of three Roundup trial losses for the company, which was acquired by Germany’s Bayer AG nearly two years ago. The jury in the Johnson case found that Monsanto was negligent in failing to warn Johnson of the cancer risk of its herbicides and awarded Johnson $289 million in damages, including $250 million in punitive damages. The trial judge later lowered the award to $78.5 million. But the loss sent Bayer’s shares spirally lower and stoked investor unrest that has persisted as the number of additional Roundup cancer claims filed against Monsanto have grown.

In appealing the verdict, Monsanto asked the court to either reverse the trial decision and enter a judgment for Monsanto or reverse and remand the case for a new trial. Monsanto argued that the verdict was flawed because of exclusion of key evidence and the “distortion of reliable science.” If nothing else,  Monsanto asked the appeals court to 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.  Monsanto’s argument on reducing future non-economic damages is based on the company’s position that Johnson is likely to die soon and thus will not suffer long-term future pain and suffering.

Johnson cross-appealed seeking reinstatement of the full jury award of $289 million.

Ahead of the hearing on the matter, the judicial panel said this: “The parties should be ready to address the following issue at oral argument, currently scheduled for June 2, 2020. Assume that this court agrees with Monsanto Company that the award of future noneconomic damages should be reduced. If the court directs such a reduction, should it also reduce the award of punitive damages to maintain the trial court’s 1:1 ratio of compensatory damages to punitive damages?”

In a separate matter, the court last month 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.

In its appeal, Monsanto argued that jurors were acting on emotion rather than scientific fact and “that there is no evidence that Monsanto had actual knowledge that its glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer. Nor could there be, when the scientific consensus, consistently accepted by EPA and other regulators around the world, contradicts that conclusion. It was not malicious for the regulators to reach this judgment, and it was not malicious for Monsanto to share their view of the science.”

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.

Bayer and lawyers for more than 50,000 plaintiffs have been trying to negotiate a national settlement for the last year but Bayer recently backed away from some already negotiated settlement amounts. With courthouses closed around the country, the plaintiffs’ attorneys have lost the near-term leverage they had when multiple new trials were set to take place this summer and fall.

Bayer said to be reneging on Roundup settlement deals as virus closes courthouses

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Bayer AG is reneging on negotiated settlements with several U.S. law firms representing thousands of plaintiffs who claim exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, sources involved in the litigation said on Friday.

The reversal comes as U.S. courts are closed to the public because of the spreading coronavirus, eliminating the specter of another Roundup cancer trial in the near future.

Bayer, which bought Monsanto in June of 2018, has been engaged in settlement talks for close to a year, seeking to put an end to mass litigation that has driven down the company’s stock, spurred investor unrest, and thrust questionable corporate conduct into a public spotlight.  The first three trials led to three losses for Bayer and jury awards of more than $2 billion, though trial judges later reduced the awards.

Bayer made a public statement this week saying that settlement talks have been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, but multiple plaintiffs’ lawyers said that was not true.

According to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Bayer has been going back to law firms that had already completed negotiations for specified settlements for their clients, saying the company will not honor the agreed-upon amounts.

“A lot of lawyers around the country thought they had tentative deals,” said Virginia attorney Mike Miller, whose firm represents roughly 6,000 clients and won two of the three Roundup trials to date. Bayer is now demanding a “hair cut” on those deals, Miller said.

Whether or not the various firms will take the reduced offers remains to be seen.  “These are uncertain economic times,” Miller said. “People have to consider what’s best for their clients.”

In response to a request for comment, a Bayer spokesman provided the following statement: “We’ve made progress in the Roundup mediation discussions, but the COVID-19 dynamics, including restrictions imposed in recent weeks, have caused meeting cancellations and delayed this process…  As a result, the mediation process has significantly slowed, and realistically, we expect this will continue to be the case for the immediate future. During this time, we will continue to do whatever we can to help combat the global COVID-19 pandemic, consistent with our vision of ‘health for all, hunger for none.’ We cannot speculate about potential outcomes from the negotiations or timing, given the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic and the confidentiality of this process, but we remain committed to engaging in mediation in good faith.”

US Right to Know reported in early January that the parties were working on a settlement of roughly $8 billion to $10 billion. Bayer has acknowledged facing claims from more than 40,000 plaintiffs, but plaintiffs’ attorneys have said the total number of claims is much higher.

Among the firms who had negotiated settlements for their clients are the Andrus Wagstaff firm from Denver, Colorado and the Los Angeles firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman. Both reached agreements last year with Bayer.

In addition, the Weitz & Luxenberg firm from New York and Mike Miller’s firm recently reached what they thought were agreements on terms. Each of the firms represents thousands of plaintiffs.

The primary leverage plaintiffs’ attorneys had been using in the settlement negotiations was the threat of another public trial. In the first three trials, damning internal Monsanto documents laid bare evidence that the company knew of the cancer risks of its glyphosate-based herbicides but failed to warn consumers; ghost-wrote scientific papers proclaiming the safety of its herbicides; worked with certain regulatory officials to quash a government review of glyphosate toxicity; and engineered efforts to discredit critics.

The revelations have triggered outrage around the world and prompted moves to ban the glyphosate-based herbicides.

Several trials that were to have been held over the last several months were cancelled shortly before they were scheduled to begin when Bayer agreed to individual settlements for those specific trial plaintiffs. Two of those cases involved children stricken with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and a third was brought by a woman suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Those plaintiffs, and others who have agreed to settlements in lieu of trials in recent months, are protected and are not part of the current rollback effort by Bayer, according to multiple sources involved.

Bayer is slated to hold its annual shareholders’ meeting on April 28. For the first time in the company’s history, the meeting will be held entirely online.

The first three plaintiffs to win jury awards against Monsanto have yet to receive any money as Bayer appeals the verdicts.

New legal filings over alleged Roundup dangers amid court coronavirus delays

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Even as the spread of the coronavirus closes courthouse doors to the public and lawyers, legal maneuvering continues over claims of danger associated with Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides.

Two nonprofit advocacy groups, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), filed an amicus brief on behalf of cancer patient Edwin Hardeman on March 23. Hardeman won a jury verdict against Monsanto of $80 million in March of 2019, becoming the second winning plaintiff in the Roundup litigation.  The trial judge reduced the jury award to a total of $25 million. Monsanto appealed the award nonetheless, asking an appellate court to overturn the verdict.

The new legal brief supporting Hardeman counters one filed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that backs Monsanto in the Hardeman appeal.

The CFS and CBD brief states that Monsanto and the EPA are both wrong to assert that the EPA’s approval of glyphosate herbicides preempts challenges to the safety of the products:

        “Contrary to Monsanto’s claims, Mr. Hardeman’s case is not preempted by EPA’s conclusion relative to glyphosate because Roundup is a glyphosate formulation that EPA has never evaluated for carcinogenicity. Moreover, significant flaws and biases undermined EPA’s evaluation of glyphosate’s carcinogenicity and the district court was correct in allowing testimony to that effect,” the brief states.

         “Monsanto wants this Court to believe that “glyphosate” is synonymous with ‘Roundup.’ The reason is simple: if the terms are interchangeable, then, they argue, EPA’s finding that glyphosate is “not likely to be carcinogenic” would apply to Roundup and might preempt Mr. Hardeman’s case. However as the evidence presented at trial demonstrated, “glyphosate” and “Roundup” are very much not synonymous, and Roundup is far more toxic than glyphosate.  Moreover, EPA has never evaluated Roundup for carcinogenicity. Glyphosate formulations, like Roundup, contain additional ingredients (co-formulants) to improve performance in some way. EPA understands these formulations are more toxic than glyphosate alone, yet nevertheless focused its cancer evaluation on pure glyphosate…”

Separate lawsuit names EPA 

In a separate legal action, last week the Center for Food Safety filed a federal lawsuit against the EPA over its continued support of glyphosate. The claim, made on behalf of a  coalition of farm workers, farmers, and conservationists, alleges the EPA is violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act as well as the Endangered Species Act by continuing to allow widespread use of glyphosate herbicides.

“While EPA defends glyphosate, juries in several cases have found it to cause cancer, ruling in favor of those impacted by exposure,” CFS said in a press release. “Glyphosate formulations like Roundup are also well-established as having numerous damaging environmental impacts. After a registration review process spanning over a decade, EPA allowed the continued marketing of the pesticide despite the agency’s failure to fully assess glyphosate’s hormone-disrupting potential or its effects on threatened and endangered species.”

Bill Freese, science policy analyst at CFS said: “Far from consulting the ‘best available science,’ as EPA claims, the agency has relied almost entirely on Monsanto studies, cherry-picking the data that suits its purpose and dismissing the rest.”

Virus-related court disruptions

Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG have been working to try to settle a large number of the tens of thousands of Roundup cancer claims brought in U.S. courts. That effort continues, and specific settlements have already been reached for some individual plaintiffs, according to sources involved in the talks. US Right to Know reported in early January that the parties were working on a settlement of roughly $8 billion to $10 billion.

However, many other cases continue to work their way through the court system, including the appeal of Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, the first plaintiff to win against Monsanto in the Roundup litigation. Johnson’s attorneys had hoped the California Court of Appeal would hold oral arguments in Monsanto’s appeal of Johnson’s win sometime in April. But that now appears extremely unlikely as other cases scheduled for March have now been pushed into April.

As well, all in-person sessions for oral arguments in the appeals court are currently suspended. Counsel who choose to present oral argument must do so over the telephone, the court states.

Meanwhile, courts in multiple California counties are closed and jury trials have been suspended to try to protect people from the spread of the virus. The federal court in San Francisco, where the multidistrict Roundup litigation is centralized, is closed to the public, including a suspension of trials, until May 1. Judges can still issue rulings, however, and hold hearings by teleconference.

In Missouri, where most of the state court Roundup cases are based, all in-person court proceedings (with a few exceptions) are suspended through April 17, according to a Missouri Supreme Court order. 

One Missouri case that had been set to go to trial in March 30 in St. Louis City Court now has a trial date set for April 27.  The case is Seitz v Monsanto #1722-CC11325.

In ordering the change, Judge Michael Mullen wrote: “DUE TO THE NATIONAL PANDEMIC OF THE COVID-19 VIRUS AND THE UNAVAILABILITY OF JURORS IN THIS CIRCUIT THE COURT HEREBY REMOVES THIS CASE FROM THE MARCH 30, 2020 TRIAL DOCKET. CAUSE IS RESET FOR A TRIAL SETTING CONFERENCE ON MONDAY, APRIL 27, 2020 @ 9:00 AM.”

Shareholder files suit against Bayer over “disastrous” Monsanto acquisition

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A California shareholder of Bayer AG on Friday filed a lawsuit against the companies’ top executives claiming they breached their duty of “prudence” and “loyalty” to the company and investors by buying Monsanto Co. in 2018, an acquisition the suit claims has “inflicted billions of dollars of damages” on the company.

Plaintiff Rebecca R. Haussmann, trustee of the Konstantin S. Haussmann Trust, is the sole named plaintiff in the suit, which was filed in New York County Supreme Court.  The named defendants include Bayer CEO Werner Baumann, who orchestrated the $63 billion Monsanto purchase, and Bayer Chairman Werner Wenning, who announced last month he was stepping down from the company earlier than planned. The suit claims that Wenning’s decision came after Bayer improperly obtained a copy of the then-draft shareholder lawsuit “through corporate espionage.”

The lawsuit also claims that Bayer’s recent announcement of an audit of its acquisition actions is “bogus” and “part of the ongoing cover-up and intended to create a legal barrier to this case to protect Defendants from their accountability…”

The action is a shareholder derivative complaint, meaning it is brought on behalf of the company against company insiders. It seeks compensatory damages for shareholders and disgorgement of “all compensation paid to the Bayer Managers and Supervisors who participated in bringing about this Acquisition…” The suit also seeks return of funds paid to banks and law firms involved in the acquisition.

The defendants include not only Baumann and Wenning, but also some present and former Bayer directors and top managers, as well as BOFA Securities, Inc., Bank of America, Credit Suisse Group AG and the law firms of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and Linklaters LLP.

A Bayer spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit comes a little more than a month before Bayer’s April 28 annual shareholders’ meeting in Bonn, Germany.  At last year’s annual meeting, 55 percent of shareholders registered their unhappiness with Baumann and other managers over the Monsanto deal and the subsequent loss of roughly $40 billion in market value.

Bayer’s purchase of Monsanto has been clouded by tens of thousands of lawsuits alleging Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company deceived customers about the risks. Bayer proceeded with the acquisition even after the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2015 classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen with a positive association to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and despite knowledge of the spreading legal claims.

Bayer then completed the Monsanto purchase just two months before the first Roundup cancer trial ended with a $289 million verdict against the company. Since that time two more trials have ended in similar findings against the company with verdicts totaling more than $2 billion, though the trial judges in each case have lowered the verdicts. All are now on appeal.

Bayer has said there are more than 45,000 plaintiffs currently making similar claims. The company has been working to settle the lawsuits for a figure widely reported to be around $10 billion but has thus far not been successful in putting an end to the litigation.

The lawsuit claims that during 2017 and 2018, as the filing of new Roundup cancer lawsuits was escalating, the ability of Bayer management to conduct due diligence into Monsanto and the litigation risks was “severely restricted.” As a result, “Bayer could not conduct the kind of intrusive and thorough due diligence into Monsanto’s business and legal affairs called for under the circumstances.”

The suit claims that Monsanto did not disclose a material risk from Roundup and failed to quantify any potential financial impact. Monsanto’s executives “had every incentive to minimize the Roundup risk in order to get Bayer to close the deal,” the lawsuit states.

The shareholder lawsuit claims that “these types of mass-tort cases… can destroy a company.”

The lawsuit points to the fact that Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicides are now being restricted and/or banned in many parts of the world, including in Germany.

“The Monsanto Acquisition is a disaster. Roundup is doomed as a commercial product,” the lawsuit states.

Dicamba litigation against Bayer, BASF poised to explode, lawyers say

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Thousands of farmers from multiple states are expected to join mass tort litigation pending in federal court over claims that weed-killing products developed by the former Monsanto Co. and other chemical companies are destroying and contaminating crops, including organic production, a group of lawyers and farmers said on Wednesday.

The number of farmers seeking legal representation to file suit against Monsanto and BASF has surged over the last week and a half after a staggering $265 million jury award to a Missouri peach farmer who alleged the two companies were to blame for the loss of his livelihood, according to Joseph Peiffer of the Peiffer Wolf Carr & Kane law firm. Peiffer said more than 2,000 farmers are likely to become plaintiffs.

There are already over 100 farmers making claims against the companies that have been combined in multidistrict litigation in U.S. District Court in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Earlier this month the bellwether trial for that litigation ended with a unanimous jury awarding the family-owned Bader Farms $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages, to be paid by  Bayer AG, the German company that bought Monsanto in 2018, and by BASF.  The jury concluded that  Monsanto and BASF conspired in actions they knew would lead to widespread crop damage because they expected it would increase their own profits.

We now have the road map to get justice for dicamba victims.  The Bader verdict in Missouri sent a clear signal that you can’t profit off of hurting innocent farmers and get away with it,” said Peiffer.  “The crop damage research and increasing farmer complaints forecast a much bigger problem than Monsanto/Bayer and BASF want to admit.”

U.S. Right to Know asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which approved the dicamba herbicides despite scientific evidence of the risks, to provide a national tally for the total number of dicamba drift complaints. But while the EPA said it was taking the reports “very seriously,” it declined to provide a tally and said it was up to state agencies to handle such complaints.

The EPA also indicated it was not certain the damage reported by farmers was, in fact, due to dicamba.

“The underlying causes of the various damage incidents are not yet clear, as on-going investigations have yet to be concluded,” said an EPA spokesperson. “But EPA is reviewing all available information carefully.

“Ticking Time Bomb”

Just as Monsanto and Bayer have been confronted with damning internal documents in losing three trials over claims Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer, there are many internal corporate documents discovered in the dicamba litigation that helped convince the jury of the company’s guilt, according to Bader Farms attorney Bill Randles.

Randles has obtained hundreds of internal Monsanto and BASF corporate records demonstrating the companies were aware of the harm their products would create even as they publicly professed the opposite. He said one BASF document referred to dicamba damage complaints as a “ticking time bomb” that “has finally exploded.”

Bader and the other farmers allege that Monsanto was negligent in rolling out genetically engineered cotton and soybeans that could survive being sprayed with dicamba herbicides because it was known that using the crops and chemicals as designed would lead to damage.

Dicamba has been used by farmers since the 1960s but with limits that took into account the chemical’s propensity to drift far from where it was sprayed. When Monsanto’s popular glyphosate weed killing products such as Roundup started losing effectiveness due to widespread weed resistance, Monsanto decided to launch a dicamba cropping system similar to its popular Roundup Ready system, which paired glyphosate-tolerant seeds with glyphosate herbicides.

Farmers buying the new genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant seeds could more easily treat stubborn weeds by spraying  entire fields with dicamba, even during warm growing months, without harming their crops, according to Monsanto, which announced a  dicamba collaboration with BASF in 2011. The companies said their new dicamba herbicides would be less volatile and less prone to drift than old formulations of dicamba. But they refused to allow for independent scientific testing.

The EPA approved the use of Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide “XtendiMax” in 2016. BASF developed its own dicamba herbicide that it calls Engenia. Both XtendiMax and Engenia were first sold in the United States in 2017.

DuPont also introduced a dicamba herbicide and could also face multiple farmer lawsuits, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

In their legal claims,  farmers allege that they have experienced damage both from the drift of old versions of dicamba and drifting newer versions as well. The farmers claim that the companies hoped fears of drift damage would force farmers to buy the special GMO dicamba-tolerant seeds in order to protect their cotton and soybean fields.

Farmers growing other types of crops have been without any means to protect their fields.

North Carolina farmer Marty Harper, who grows about 4,000 acres of tobacco as well as peanuts, cotton, corn, soybeans, wheat, and sweet potatoes, said dicamba-related damage to his tobacco fields exceeds  $200,000.  He said part of his peanut crop has also been damaged.

More than 2,700 farms have suffered dicamba damage, according to University of Missouri crop science professor Kevin Bradley.

As settlement talks drag on, another Monsanto Roundup trial nears

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Continuing to lack a resolution in the massive nationwide Roundup cancer litigation, a leading U.S. plaintiffs’ law firm is pressing ahead with preparations for a California trial involving a critically ill cancer patient and his wife who are suing the former Monsanto company claiming the man’s disease is due to years of his use of Roundup herbicide.

The Miller Firm, which has about 6,000 Roundup plaintiffs, is now preparing to go to trial against Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG on May 5 in Marin County Superior Court in California. The case has been granted preference status –  meaning a quick trial date – because plaintiff Victor Berliant is critically ill. A deposition of Berliant is being scheduled for next week.

Berliant, a man in his 70s, has been diagnosed with Stage IV T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma and is planning to undergo a bone marrow transplant in March after multiple rounds of chemotherapy failed. His lawyers say it is necessary to take his deposition before the transplant as there is a risk he may not survive the procedure or may be otherwise unable to participate at the May trial.

Berliant used Roundup from approximately 1989 to 2017, according to his lawsuit. His wife, Linda Berliant, is also named as a plaintiff, asserting loss of consortium and other damages.

Other cases with trial dates are pending in the St. Louis, Missouri area and in Kansas City,  Missouri, including one case with more than 80 plaintiffs scheduled for trial March 30 in St. Louis City Court. A hearing was supposed to be held today in that case, Seitz v. Monsanto, but was cancelled.

The Miller firm is one of the primary plaintiffs’ firms in the Roundup litigation and caused a stir last month by canceling a St. Louis trial shortly before opening statements were to begin in order to facilitate settlement talks.

The fact that the Miller firm is pressing ahead with more trials underscores the lack of agreement between Bayer and the attorneys for a pool of plaintiffs that some sources say now numbers above 100,000.

Both the Miller firm and the firm of Weitz & Luxenberg, which have close to 20,000 plaintiffs combined, have been at the forefront of negotiations, sources close to the litigation say.

Certain plaintiffs who have agreed to cancel their trials have secured agreements on specific settlement amounts, sources involved in the litigation said, while other parties are said to be discussing deals that are contingent upon the successful completion of a larger overall settlement of the U.S. litigation.

But a comprehensive settlement to put the Roundup claims to rest for the long term remains challenging, sources said. Settling with the current pool of plaintiffs will not protect Bayer from future litigation over Roundup cancer causation claims.

The Wall Street Journal has called the effort to forge a settlement an “extraordinary challenge.” 

Many Bayer investors are hoping for a resolution no later than Bayer’s annual meeting on April 28 in Bonn, Germany.

Numbers of $8 billion-$10 billion have been floated for weeks by litigation sources as a potential settlement total for the mass of cases that has dogged Bayer ever since it bought Monsanto in June of 2018 for $63 billion.

The first three trials went badly for Monsanto and Bayer as outraged juries awarded over $2.3 billion in damages to four plaintiffs. Trial judges lowered the jury awards to a total of roughly $190 million, and all are under appeal but the company’s share prices has been sharply depressed by the repeated trial losses.

The trials have turned a public spotlight on internal Monsanto record  that showed how Monsanto engineered scientific papers proclaiming the safety of its herbicides that falsely appeared to be created solely by independent scientists; used third parties to try to discredit scientists reporting harm with glyphosate herbicides; and collaborated with Environmental Protection Agency officials to protect Monsanto’s position that its products were not cancer-causing.

“The last thing Bayer wants is another bad headline on the Roundup litigation” said Marine Chriqui, a London-based market analyst. “I think it is really important for them not to be in a difficult situation at the time of the meeting. “

Some industry observers suggest that Bayer may continue to settle each case just before trial for many months as appeals play out.

Lawyers for both sides are currently awaiting a date for oral arguments before the appeals court in the case of Johnson v. Monsanto, which was the first to go to trial in the summer of 2018.

Some of the plaintiffs’ attorneys are contemplating making an appearance in Bonn the week of the shareholders’ meeting if a settlement is not achieved, litigation sources said.