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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Year Off to a Strong Start for Monsanto

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The new year is off to a strong start for Monsanto as the Bayer unit heads into its second trial over allegations that its Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer. In Jan. 3 ruling, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria rejected arguments by attorneys representing cancer victims and sided with Monsanto in deciding to block jurors from hearing a large portion of evidence that plaintiffs say shows efforts by Monsanto to manipulate and influence regulators in a first phase of the trial. In deciding to bifurcate the trial, Chhabria said that jurors will only hear such evidence if they first agree that Monsanto’s weed killer did significantly contribute to causing the plaintiff’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

“A significant portion of the plaintiffs’ case involves attacks on Monsanto for attempting to influence regulatory agencies and manipulate public opinion regarding glyphosate. These issues are relevant to punitive damages and some liability questions. But when it comes to whether glyphosate caused a plaintiff’s NHL, these issues are mostly a distraction, and a significant one at that,” the judge’s order states.

He did provide a caveat, writing, “if the plaintiffs have evidence that Monsanto manipulated the outcome of scientific studies, as opposed to agency decisions or public opinion regarding those studies, that evidence may well be admissible at the causation phase.”

Jury selection is set to begin Feb. 20 with the trial set to get underway on Feb. 25 in San Francisco. The case is Edwin Hardeman v. Monsanto.

Meanwhile, plaintiff Lee Johnson,who was the first cancer victim to take Monsanto to trial, winning a unanimous jury verdict against the company in August, has also won his request to the 1st District Court of Appeals for speedy handling of Monsanto’s appeal of that jury award. Monsanto opposed Johnson’s request for “calendar preference,” but the court granted the request on Dec. 27, giving Monsanto 60 days to file its opening brief.