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.”

Roundup cancer plaintiffs eagerly await settlement news

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Thousands of cancer patients and their families around the United States were notified this week that a comprehensive settlement of their claims against the former Monsanto Co. should be announced before the end of the month.

Though specific settlement amounts for specific plaintiffs are still to be determined, groups of plaintiffs have been told to expect details of a sweeping financial deal to be publicly announced before a June 30 deadline set for completing the year-long negotiations. 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.

Lawyers for Monsanto owner Bayer AG and lawyers representing more than 50,000 of the plaintiffs have been engaged in contentious, start-and-stop discussions about a settlement for several months, frustrating families who are struggling financially and emotionally with the strains of fighting cancer.

Many plaintiffs have lost jobs and homes as they deal with costly cancer treatments and some have died while waiting for their cases to be resolved, court records show. Notification of the death of one such plaintiff was made to the federal court in San Francisco on June 1.

Many of the lead law firms with large caseloads have agreed to the terms of a deal that calls for $8 billion-$10 billion to be paid by Bayer in exchange for an agreement that those firms will not file new cancer claims against the company, according to sources close to the litigation.

The amount of money each plaintiff gets will depend upon several factors. The settlements are expected to be structured so they will be tax-free for the plaintiffs.

Some law firms with Roundup plaintiffs have yet to finalize a deal, and settlement meetings were still being held last week, including with the Louisiana-based firm of Pendley, Baudin & Coffin, according to sources close to the litigation.

Bayer spokesman Chris Loder would not confirm the timing or terms of any announcement, saying only that the company had made progress in the negotiations but would “not speculate about settlement outcomes or timing.”

He said any resolution has to be “financially reasonable” and provide “a process to resolve potential future litigation.”

Bayer, which bought Monsanto in June of 2018, has been seeking to put an end to the 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 Monsanto and jury awards of more than $2 billion, though trial judges later sharply reduced the awards. Monsanto appealed each of the three losses and is now awaiting an appellate ruling on the first case – Johnson v. Monsanto – after a June 2 oral argument. 

Despite the settlement talks, court proceedings have been continuing on multiple cases. A flurry of lawsuits were recently transferred from state courts into the federal multidistrict Roundup litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco. And lawyers for Bayer have been busily filing their answers to the lawsuits.

In the city of St. Louis, Mo., Monsanto’s longtime home-town, the case of Timothy Kane v. Monsanto has a status hearing set for June 15 and a jury trial set to start June 29.  And though it appears very unlikely the case will proceed, on Wednesday lawyers for the chemical giant filed a motion seeking to exclude testimony of one of the witnesses for the plaintiffs.

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EPA thumbs nose at court order, says farmers can still use illegal dicamba herbicides

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(UPDATES with comment from BASF)

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday declared it would not immediately honor a court ruling handed down last week that banned certain herbicides made by three of the world’s largest chemical companies.

The move by the EPA amounts to a generous gift to BASF, Bayer and Corteva Agrisciences whose dicamba herbicides were deemed by the court to have been approved by the EPA illegally. The court specifically said in its order issued last week that it wanted no delay in vacating those approvals. The court cited damage done by dicamba use in past summers to millions of acres of crops, orchards and vegetable plots across U.S. farm country.

But the EPA announced Monday that it was issuing a “cancellation order” that would give farmers until July 31 to use existing stocks of Bayer’s Xtendimax, BASF’s Engenia, and Corteva’s FeXapan.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the EPA made multiple errors in approving the dicamba products and came in response to a petition brought by the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity, and Pesticide Action Network North America.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS), whose lawyers argued the case for petitioners, said in a statement that the EPA’s action was “disingenuous” and “ignores the well-documented and overwhelming evidence of substantial drift harm to farmers from another disastrous spraying season.” The EPA action also ignores the risks dicamba poses to hundreds of endangered species, CFS said.

“The Trump administration is again showing it has no regard for the rule of law. All users that continue to not seek alternatives should be on notice that they are using a harmful, defective, and unlawful product. We will bring the EPA’s failure to abide by the Court’s order to the Court as expeditiously as possible,” CFS said.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue last week urged the EPA to figure out a way around the court ruling, echoing comments by Bayer, BASF and Corteva that called dicamba herbicides important “tools” for farmers growing genetically engineered soybean and cotton.

The EPA said in deciding to allow farmers to continue to use dicamba through the end of July it was responding to “numerous unsolicited phone calls and emails” telling the agency “there is a real concern and potential for devastation to cotton and soybean crops that could result in a crisis for the industry.”

The EPA did not acknowledge the scores of farmers growing crops other than dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton who have suffered crop losses from dicamba drift and fear another summer of crop damage.

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, which was bought by Bayer in 2018, 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 the 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.

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 were proven false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage in recent years. More than one million acres of dicamba crop damage was reported last year in 18 states, the court noted.

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.

In a statement issued after the EPA announcement, BASF  said it supported the EPA’s decision to allow the continued use of existing stocks of BASF’s Engenia herbicide through July 31, but said “additional clarity and flexibility” was required.  The company said it had immediately suspended selling and shipping Engenia herbicide after last week’s ruling. 

The company said it  will continue to pursue re-registration of Engenia with the EPA and is assessing its options to pursue legal remedies to challenge the court order.

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.

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 shareholder meeting draws protests, pleas from cancer patients

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The Bayer AG annual shareholders’ meeting got underway Tuesday in Germany, drawing the attention of not only investors and analysts but also activists, lawyers and cancer patients who want to see Bayer make amends for alleged misdeeds by Monsanto, which Bayer bought two years ago.

The meeting was to be an in-person event in Bonn, Germany but due to fears about large gatherings that could spread the Covid-19 virus, Bayer instead is hosting a video webcast  of the meeting.

On Monday the company announced a “good start to 2020,” reporting higher sales and profits through all divisions driven in part by strong demand within its Consumer Health division related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The shareholders’ meeting comes as Bayer is facing legal claims in the United States brought by roughly 52,500 plaintiffs alleging that exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). They allege Monsanto was aware of the risks and should have warned consumers but instead sought to manipulate the scientific record and regulators.

Three trials have been held to date and Bayer lost all three as juries awarded more than $2 billion to four plaintiffs, though trial judges later reduced the awards. The trial losses angered investors and pushed share prices to the lowest levels in roughly seven years,  erasing more than 40 percent of Bayer’s market value at one point. Some investors called for Bayer CEO Werner Baumann to be ousted for championing the Monsanto acquisition, which closed in June of 2018 just as the first trial was getting underway.

Bayer and plaintiffs’ attorneys have been engaged in settlement talks for the last year and appeared close to a deal that would resolve a majority of the claims before the onset of Covid-19.

Virus-related government closures, including of U.S. courthouses, have eliminated the possibility of additional trials in the near future, and Bayer has seized on its fresh leverage to walk back some of its negotiated settlements, according to sources close to the talks.

Bayer said Monday it will “continue to consider a solution only if it is financially reasonable and puts in place a mechanism to resolve potential future claims efficiently. Against the background of a looming recession and looking at, in part, considerable liquidity challenges, this applies now more than ever.”

Despite the lack of an in-person meeting, several individuals and organizations are hoping to make their criticisms of the company known. One group representing beekeepers said it was running online ads redirecting people searching for Bayer AGM on Google to an online stream featuring beekeepers talking about the impacts of Bayer’s pesticides on bees.

Several people involved in the Roundup litigation also spoke out.

“It’s time for the Bayer board of directors to step up and do what is right,” said Thomas Bolger, a 68-year-old man from Texas who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2013 after using Roundup since 1982. Bolger recorded a video message to Bayer, detailing his ordeal with cancer.

Robyndee Laumbach, a 50-year-old Texas woman who said her work in cotton genetics exposed her repeatedly to Roundup, also made a video message for Bayer. “Cancer is bad, any which way you look at it. I’m completely damaged and scarred and I will be for the remainder of my life,” she said.

Both Laumbach and Bolger are among the people suing Monsanto.

Roundup litigation plaintiff Michelle Taranto also made a video message on behalf of her husband to share with Bayer. Rose said her husband will soon be entering his third round of treatments “that will hopefully save his life.” She asked Bayer to stop selling Roundup.

“Our lives have been diminished to endless hospital visits, countless painful treatments and expensive scary hospital stays,” Taranto said.

Maine Christmas tree farm operator Jim Hayes made a video message describing being diagnosed with Stage 4 NHL in 2016 after using Roundup on his farm for years. Hayes said he went through six rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant before being declared in remission. He now fears his cancer will return.

“I love my life. I love my family. I trusted the product. Clearly it is not safe for everyone to use,” Hayes said.

One Roundup litigation plaintiff who only wanted to be identified by his first name, Chuck, also made a video message for Bayer.

“I believe Bayer should be doing everything in their power to fix the problem that Monsanto and their product Roundup has caused thousands of individuals like myself who thought we were just using a harmless weed killer,” he said. “Although my cancer is incurable, Bayer can prevent future people from developing this horrible disease by taking this product Roundup off the shelf now. Bayer should also be accountable for everyone that now has to deal with this horrible disease every day.”

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.