Monsanto Roundup Trial Tracker: New Developments

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You can find updates about the ongoing litigation against Monsanto Company in this blog, which we will be updating regularly with tips and tidbits of interest. Discovery documents from the litigation are posted on our Monsanto Papers page, and we provide links to recent news stories and analysis here.

January 18, 2019 – Time flies when a big case approaches.  U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria has set an evidentiary hearing for Jan 28 at 9 a.m. local time in federal court in San Francisco to be followed by a “Daubert” hearing that day at 2 p.m. The hearings are to consider evidence and experts that will be key to the first-ever federal trial taking up claims that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides can cause cancer and Monsanto has covered up the risks. Video recording of the proceedings is being allowed.

Chhabria has taken the unusual step of agreeing with a request from the attorneys representing Monsanto and its owner Bayer AG to bifurcate the trial. The first phase, per Monsanto’s request, will deal only with evidence relevant causation – if it’s products caused the cancer suffered by plaintiff Edwin Hardeman. Evidence of Monsanto efforts to manipulate regulators and the scientific literature and “ghost write” various articles would only be presented in a second phase of the trial if jurors in the first phase find the herbicides were a substantial factor in causing Hardeman’s cancer.

The parties are in disagreement over exactly what evidence should be allowed in the causation phase.

Monsanto specifically has asked the judge to exclude from evidence:

  • A  2001 email detailing internal discussions regarding an independent  epidemiology study published that year.
  • A 2015 internal email regarding the company’s relationship with and funding of the American Council on Science and Health, a group that purports to be independent of industry as its promotes safety messaging about glyphosate products.
  •   A 2015 email chain including internal commentary by Monsanto scientist Bill Heydens about the role surfactants play in glyphosate  formulated products.

For point 1, attorneys for Hardeman have said they do not intend to try to introduce the evidence “unless the door is opened by Monsanto.”

For point 2, they also said they do not intend to introduce the ACSH correspondence “unless Monsanto in any way relies on the ACSH’s junk science positions regarding the carcinogenicity” of glyphosate-based formulations “or attacks on IARC’s classification of glyphosate. ”

As for the 2015 Heydens email chain, attorney’s for Hardeman argue the correspondence is illuminating to the causation question.  Heydens’ email refers to the results of a 2010 study referred to as George et al.,  which found a a statistically significant increase of tumors on the skin of rodents following exposure to a formulated Roundup product. The study is one relied upon by plaintiffs’ general causation experts.

The letter brief laying out the positions by opposing parties is here.

In a separate issue – the ongoing government shut-down could impact the Feb. 25 trial date for the Hardeman case. Judge Chhabria has said that he does not intend to ask jurors to sit in a trial without being paid.

January 16, 2019 – New documents filed in federal court are threatening to expose Reuters news reporter Kate Kelland for acting as Monsanto’s puppet in driving a false narrative about cancer scientist Aaron Blair and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.

In 2017, Kelland authored a controversial story attributed to “court documents,” that actually appears to have been fed to her by a Monsanto executive who helpfully provided several key points the company wanted made. The documents Kelland cited were not filed in court, and not publicly available at the time she wrote her story but writing that her story was based on court documents allowed her to avoid disclosing Monsanto’s role in driving the story.

When the story came out, it portrayed cancer scientist Aaron Blair as hiding “important information” that found no links between glyphosate and cancer  from IARC. Kelland wrote that Blair “said the data would have altered IARC’s analysis” even though a review of the full deposition shows that Blair did not say that.

Kelland provided no link to the documents she cited, making it impossible for readers to see for themselves how far she veered from accuracy.

The story was picked up by media outlets around the world, and promoted by Monsanto and chemical industry allies. Google advertisements were even purchased promoting the story.

Now, new information revealed in court filings indicates just how heavy Monsanto’s hand was in pushing the narrative.  In a January 15 court filing, Plaintiff’s attorneys cited internal Monsanto correspondence dated April 27, 2017 they say show that Monsanto executive Sam Murphey sent the desired narrative to Kelland with a slide deck of talking points and portions of the Blair deposition that was not filed in court. The attorneys said the correspondence shows the Monsanto executive asking her to publish an article accusing Dr. Blair of deceiving IARC.

The public cannot see the actual internal correspondence between Monsanto and Kelland because Monsanto and Bayer lawyers want it sealed from public view.

Plaintiff’s attorneys also write in their letter brief that Monsanto’s internal documents show Kelland was seen as a a key media contact in their efforts to discredit IARC.

There is nothing inherently wrong in receiving story suggestions that benefit companies from the companies themselves. It happens all the time. But reporters must be diligent in presenting facts, not corporate propaganda.

This story was used by Monsanto to attack IARC on multiple fronts, including an effort by Monsanto to get Congress to strip funding from IARC.

At the very least, Kelland should have been honest with readers and acknowledged that Monsanto was her source. Reuters owes the world – and IARC – an apology.

For more background on this topic, see this article.

January 10, 2019 – For those wanting more details on the reasoning and ramifications of a federal court judge’s decision to limit large volumes of evidence related to Monsanto’s internal communications and conduct from the first federal trial, this transcript of the Jan. 4 hearing on the matter is informative.

Here is an exchange between plaintiff’s attorney Brent Wisner and Judge Vince Chhabria that illustrates the frustration and fear plaintiff’s attorneys have over the limitation of their evidence to direct causation, with much of the evidence dealing with Monsanto’s conduct and internal communications restricted. The judge has said that evidence would only come in at a second phase of the trial if jurors in a first phase find that Monsanto’s Roundup products directly contributed substantially to the plaintiff’s cancer.

MR. WISNER: “Here is a great example: Monsanto’s chief toxicologist,
Donna Farmer, she writes in an e-mail: We can’t say Roundup
doesn’t cause cancer. We have not done the necessary testing
on the formulated product.
THE COURT: That would not come in — my gut reaction
is that that would not come in in the first phase.
MR. WISNER: So that is literally Monsanto’s chief
toxicologist — a person who has more knowledge about Roundup
than anyone else in the world — saying —
THE COURT: The question is whether it causes cancer,
not whether — not Farmer’s opinion on what Monsanto can say or
not say. It is about what the science actually shows.
MR. WISNER: Sure. She is literally talking about the
science that they didn’t do.
THE COURT: My gut is that that is actually really a
fairly easy question, and the answer to that fairly easy
question is that that doesn’t come in in the first phase.”

Stay tuned….

January 9, 2019 – The first federal trial in the Roundup Products Liability Litigation may still be more than a month away, but the calendar is busy for attorneys on both sides. See below the schedule set by the judge in an order filed yesterday:

PRETRIAL ORDER NO. 63: UPCOMING DEADLINES FOR BELLWETHER TRIAL.

Evidentiary Hearing set for 1/28/2019 09:00 AM in San Francisco, Courtroom 04, 17th Floor before Judge Vince Chhabria.

Dr. Shustov’sDaubertHearing set for 1/28/2019 02:00 PM in San Francisco, Courtroom 04, 17th Floor before Judge Vince Chhabria.

Jury Selection to complete the supplemental questionnaire in the jury office (not on the record or in court) set for 2/13/2019 08:30 AM in San Francisco.

Jury Selection (hardship and challenge cause hearing with counsel and Court) set for 2/15/2019 10:30 AM in San Francisco, Courtroom 04, 17th Floor before Judge Vince Chhabria.

January 7, 2019 – 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 theoutcome of scientific studies, as opposed to agency decisions or public opinion regarding thosestudies, 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.

December 20, 2018 – U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said on Thursday that he would not rule until January on the disputed issue of bifurcation of the first federal trial, which is set to get underway in February. Attorneys for plaintiffs and for Monsanto were ordered to file all of their experts’ reports by Friday, December 21 to help Chhabria in his decision.

December 18, 2018 –Monsanto/Bayer lawyers responded Friday to de-designation requests concerning several hundred internal Monsanto records, seeking to keep most of them sealed in opposition to requests from plaintiffs’ attorneys. Company lawyers did agree to the release of some internal documents, which could be made public this week.

In the meantime both sides are awaiting a ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria on a motion made by Monsanto attorneys to reverse bifurcate the first federal court trial in the mass Roundup cancer litigation. That trial is set to begin Feb. 25 and is considered a bellwether that will set the stage for how and if other cases proceed and/or are resolved.

Monsanto would like the federal court trials to be conducted in two phases—a first phase focused on medical causation – did the company’s herbicides cause the specific plaintiff’s cancer – and a second phase to address liability only if plaintiffs prevail in the first phase.

The issues of causation and compensatory damages are “separate and distinct from Monsanto’s alleged negligence and company conduct and would involve testimony from different witnesses,” the company argued.” Bifurcation would avoid “undue delay in resolving this case…”

Plaintiffs’ attorneys object to the bifurcation saying the idea is “unheard of” in modern multi district litigation (MDL), which is what Chhabria is overseeing. More than 600 lawsuits are pending in his court alleging that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused plaintiffs’ cancers, and Monsanto failed to warn consumers of the dangers of its products.

“It is simply never done, and for good reason,” plaintiffs’ attorneys argued in a Dec. 13 court filing. “The purpose of a bellwether trial is to allow each side to test their theories and evidence against a real-world jury and, hopefully, learn important information about the strengths and weaknesses of the case to inform collective resolution. Imposing a one-sided procedural hurdle—one that would be a de facto outlier for the 10,000 cases proceeding around the country—does not accomplish that goal. It renders any verdict in this MDL, no matter which side prevails, unhelpful.”

The next hearing in the case is set for Jan. 4.

December 14, 2018 – Plaintiff Seeks Expedited Handling of Monsanto’s Appeal as His Health Deteriorates

Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, the first plaintiff to take Monsanto to trial alleging the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer, is scheduled for surgery today to remove a new cancerous growth on one of his arms.

Johnson’s health has been deteriorating since the trial’s conclusion in August and an interruption in treatment due to a temporary lapse in insurance coverage. He has not received any funds from the litigation due to the appeals Monsanto instigated after Johnson court victory. Monsanto is appealing the verdict of $78 million, which was reduced by the trial judge from the jury’s award of $289 million.

Johnson filed notice with the court in October that he would accept the reduced award. But because Monsanto has appealed, Johnson’s attorneys have also filed an appeal, seeking to reinstate the jury award.

The California State Court of Appeals, 1st Appellate District, case number is A155940.

Johnson’s attorneys are seeking expedited handling of the appeal and say they hope to have briefings completed by April.

“There is… a strong likelihood that Mr. Johnson is going to die in 2019,” the plaintiff’s motion states.

Johnson, who plans to restart immunotherapy after his surgery, is not necessarily in agreement.

“I hate to think about dying,” he said in an interview published in Time Magazine. Even when I feel like I’m dying, I just make myself move past it. I feel like you can’t give in to it, the diagnosis, the disease, because then you really are dead. I don’t mess around with the death cloud, the dark thoughts, the fears. I’m planning for a good life.”

December 13, 2018 – More Monsanto Shoes (Documents) Set to Drop

The law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman, which partnered with The Miller Firm in notching the historic victory for plaintiff Dewayne Lee Johnson over Monsanto in August, is seeking the de-designation of several hundred pages of internal Monsanto records that were obtained through discovery but have so far been kept sealed.

Baum Hedlund last year released hundreds of other internal Monsanto records that include emails, memos, text messages and other communications that were influential in the unanimous jury verdict finding Monsanto acted with “malice” by not warning customers of scientific concerns about its glyphosate-based herbicides. Jury sources say that those internal records were very influential in their $250 million punitive damage award against Monsanto, which the judge in the case reduced to $39 million for a total award of $78 million.

Attorneys for plaintiffs in two upcoming trials say that Monsanto records that have not been seen publicly before will be part of new evidence they plan to introduce at the trials.

Today is also the deadline for plaintiffs attorneys to respond to Monsanto’smotion to “reverse bifurcate” the Feb. 25 trial set for U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California. (see Dec. 11 entry below for more details)

December 12, 2018 – New Judge Appointed in Pilliod Case

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ioana Petrou, who has spent more than a year engaged in the Roundup cancer litigation and sat through many days of the presentation of scientific evidence by plaintiffs and defense experts in a federal court hearing in March 2017, is off the case. California Gov. Jerry Brown announced on November 21st that Petrou has been appointed associate justice, Division Three of the First District Court of Appeal.

Judge Winifred Smith has been named to replace Petrou to oversee the case of Pilliod V. Monsanto, which is scheduled to go to trial March 8 in Oakland, California. Smith was appointed by Governor Gray Davis in November 2000, and prior to her appointment, served as deputy assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice in San Francisco.

The Pilliod case will be the third to go to trial in the sweeping Roundup mass tort litigation. Alva Pilliod and his wife Alberta Pilliod, both in their 70s and married for 48 years, allege that their cancers – forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma – are due to their long exposure to Roundup. Their advanced ages and cancer diagnoses warrant a speedy trial, according to court filings by their attorneys. Monsanto opposed their request for the expedited trial date but Petrou found the couple’s illnesses and ages warranted preference. Alberta has brain cancer while Alva suffers from a cancer that has invaded his pelvis and spine. Alva was diagnosed in 2011 while Alberta was diagnosed in 2015. They used Roundup from roughly the mid -1970s until only a few years ago.

The Pilliod suit echoes others in claiming that “Monsanto led a prolonged campaign of misinformation to convince government agencies, farmers and the general public that Roundup was safe.”

December 11, 2018 – Attorneys Scramble Ahead of Next Trial

With the next trial in the mass Roundup cancer litigation set for Feb. 25 in San Francisco, attorneys for Monsanto and plaintiffs are scrambling to take more than two dozen depositions in the waning weeks of December and into January even as they debate how the trial should be organized.

Monsanto attorneys on Dec. 10 filed a motion to “reverse bifurcate” the next trial Edwin Hardeman V. Monsanto (3:16-cv-00525). Monsanto wants the jury only to hear evidence focused on specific medical causation first – did its herbicide cause the plaintiff’s cancer – with a second phase that would address Monsanto’s liability and damages only necessary if the jury found in plaintiff’s favor in the first phase. See Monsanto’s argument here. Judge Chhabria granted a request from plaintiff’s attorneys to be allowed until Thursday to file their response.

Edwin Hardeman and his wife spent many years living on a 56-acre, former exotic animal refuge in Sonoma County, California where Hardeman routinely used Roundup products to treat overgrown grasses and weeds since the 1980s. He was diagnosed with B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma in February 2015, just a month before the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen.

Hardeman’s case was selected as the first to be tried in federal court in San Francisco (Northern District of California) in front of Judge Vince Chhabria. Attorney Aimee Wagstaff of Denver, Colorado, is lead plaintiff’s counsel on the case. Attorney Brent Wisner of the Baum Hedlund law firm in Los Angeles, and the lawyer credited with leading the victory in Dewayne Lee Johnson’s historic August victory over Monsanto, had been expected to help try the case but now has another case scheduled to begin in March. That case is Pilliod, et al V. Monsanto in Alameda County Superior Court. See related documents on the Monsanto Papers main page.

Monsanto’s new owner Bayer AG is not content to rely on Monsanto’s trial team that lost the Johnson case and is bringing in its own legal defense team. The Bayer team, which helped the German company win litigation over the Xarelto blood thinner, now includes Pamela Yates and Andrew Solow of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer and Brian Stekloff of Wilkinson Walsh Eskovitz.

Hearings on specific causation issues are set in the Hardeman case for Feb. 4, 6, 11, and 13 with jury selection scheduled for Feb. 20. Opening arguments would then begin Feb. 25, according to the current schedule.

December 6, 2018 – Upcoming Monsanto Trial Dates

2/25/2019 – Federal Court – Hardeman
3/18/2019 – CA JCCP – Pilliod (2 plaintiffs)
4/1/2019 – St. Louis City Court – Hall
4/22/2019 – St. Louis County Court – Gordon
5/25/2019 – Federal Court – Stevick or Gebeyehou
9/9/2019 – St. Louis County Court – 4 plaintiffs
1/21/2020 – St. Louis City Court – 10 plaintiffs
3/23/2020 – St. Louis City Court

November 21, 2018 – Lee Johnson interview

Dewayne “Lee” Johnson was the first person to take Monsanto to court alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused him to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company covered up the risks. In August 2018, a jury in San Francisco unanimously found that Monsanto had failed to warn about the carcinogenic dangers of Roundup herbicide and related products, and they awarded Johnson $289 million. A judge later reduced that amount to $78 million. Carey Gillam spoke with Johnson about the aftermath of his case in this interview for TIME magazine: I Won a Historic Lawsuit But May Not Get to Keep the Money

University of Florida Sued for Failure to Release Public Records on Agrichemical Industry

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News Release
For Immediate Release: Tuesday, July 11, 2017
For More Information Contact: Gary Ruskin (415) 944-7350

Food industry watchdog group U.S. Right to Know filed a lawsuit today to compel the University of Florida to comply with public records requests about the university’s relationship with agrichemical companies that produce genetically engineered seeds and pesticides.

“We are conducting an investigation of the food and agrichemical industries, their front groups and public relations operatives, their ties to universities, and the health risks of their products, said Gary Ruskin, co-director of U.S. Right to Know. “The public has a right to know if and when taxpayer-funded universities and academics are collaborating with corporations to promote their products and viewpoints.”

On September 5, 2015, the New York Times published a front-page article, based on USRTK public records requests, about agrichemical industry ties to public university professors, including one from the University of Florida.

On September 3, 2015, USRTK requested emails sent from and received by the University of Florida via the pro-agrichemical industry listserver “AgBioChatter.” On March 7, 2016, the University of Florida provided 24 pages of emails, and on June 17, 2016 provided an additional 57 pages, but denied much of the request.  USRTK updated and renewed the public records request on July 16, 2017.

In addition, on October 27, 2015, USRTK requested emails about the agrichemical industry sent by Jack M. Payne, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources at the University of Florida, to employees of the University of Florida Foundation.  On December 15, 2015, the University of Florida provided 42 pages of documents, but denied release of other responsive documents.

“We seek these records to learn more about the University of Florida’s collaboration with the agrichemical industry,” Ruskin said.

Around the time that the New York Times published the University of Florida Foundation’s food and agrichemical industry major donors, the foundation removed these disclosures from its website.

The USRTK investigation of the food and agrichemical industries has been covered in many news outlets, including the New York TimesBoston Globe, BMJ, the GuardianLe MondeSTATCBC and Mother Jones.

USRTK’s complaint for writ of mandamus against the University of Florida Board of Trustees is available at: https://usrtk.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Petition-For-Writ-Of-Mandamus.pdf.  The complaint was filed in the Circuit Court of the Eighth Judicial Circuit, Alachua County, Florida.  The case is US Right to Know v. The University of Florida Board of Trustees.

More information about USRTK’s transparency litigation is at: https://usrtk.org/our-litigation/.

U.S. Right to Know is a nonprofit organization that investigates the risks associated with the corporate food system, and the food industry’s practices and influence on public policy. We promote the free market principle of transparency – in the marketplace and in politics – as crucial to building a better, healthier food system.

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