Appeals court upholds groundskeeper’s Roundup cancer trial win over Monsanto

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In yet another court loss for Monsanto owner Bayer AG, an appeals court rejected the company’s effort to overturn the trial victory notched by a California school groundskeeper who alleged exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicides caused him to develop cancer, though the court did say damages should be cut to $20.5 million.

The Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District of California said Monday that Monsanto’s arguments were unpersuasive and Dewayne “Lee” Johnson was entitled to collect $10.25 million in  compensatory damages and another $10.25 million in punitive damages. That is down from a total of $78 million the trial judge allowed.

“In our view, Johnson presented abundant—and certainly substantial— evidence that glyphosate, together with the other ingredients in Roundup products, caused his cancer,” the court stated. “Expert after expert provided evidence both that Roundup products are capable of causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma…  and caused Johnson’s cancer in particular.”

The court further noted that “there was overwhelming evidence that Johnson has suffered, and will continue to suffer for the rest of his life, significant pain and suffering.”

The court said that Monsanto’s argument that scientific findings about glyphosate’s links to cancer constituted a “minority view” was not supported.

Notably, the appeals court added that punitive damages were in order because there was sufficient evidence that Monsanto acted with “willful and conscious disregard of others’ safety.”

Mike Miller, whose Virginia law firm represented Johnson at trial along with the Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman firm of Los Angeles, said he was cheered at the court’s confirmation that Johnson developed cancer from his use of Roundup and that the court affirmed the award of punitive damages for “Monsanto’s willful misconduct.”

“Mr Johnson continues to suffer from his injuries. We are proud to fight for Mr Johnson and his pursuit of justice,” Miller said.

Monsanto owes annual interest at the rate of 10 percent from April of 2018 until it pays the final judgment.

The reduction in damages is tied in part to the fact that doctors have told Johnson his cancer is terminal and he is not expected to live very much longer. The court agreed with Monsanto that because compensatory damages are designed to compensate for future pain, mental suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, physical impairment, etc…  Johnson’s short life expectancy legally means the future “non-economic” damages awarded by the trial court must be reduced.

Brent Wisner, one of Johnson’s trial attorneys, said the reduction in damages was the result of a “deep flaw in California tort law.”

“Basically, California law does not allow a plaintiff to recover for a shortened life expectancy,” Wisner said. “This effectively rewards a defendant for killing a plaintiff, as opposed to just injuring him. It is madness.”

A spotlight on Monsanto’s conduct

It was just two months after Bayer bought Monsanto, in August 2018, that a unanimous jury awarded Johnson $289 million, including $250 million in punitive damages, finding that not only did Monsanto’s herbicides cause Johnson to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but that the company knew of the cancer risks and failed to warn Johnson. The lawsuit involved two Monsanto glyphosate herbicide products – Roundup and Ranger Pro.

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.

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 after they issued their classification.

Tens of thousands of plaintiffs have filed lawsuits 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. Both are also under appeal.

In June, Bayer said it had reached a  settlement agreement with attorneys representing 75 percent of the roughly 125,000 filed and yet-to-be filed claims initiated by U.S. plaintiffs who blame exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup for their development of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Bayer said it will provide $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion to resolve the litigation. But lawyers representing more than 20,000 additional plaintiffs say they have not agreed to settle with Bayer and those lawsuits are expected to continue to work their way through the court system.

In a statement issued after the court ruling, Bayer said it stands behind the safety of Roundup: “The appeal court’s decision to reduce the compensatory and punitive damages is a step in the right direction, but we continue to believe that the jury’s verdict and damage awards are inconsistent with the evidence at trial and the law. Monsanto will consider its legal options, including filing an appeal with the Supreme Court of California.”

EPA removes name of U.S. official from warning of glyphosate cancer links

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(Update with EPA explanation)

In an unusual move, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has deleted the name of a high-ranking U.S.  health official from a public comment that warned of cancer links to the weed killing chemical glyphosate and called for a halt to industry manipulation of research.

The public comment in question was submitted to the EPA and posted on the agency’s website under the name of Patrick Breysse, the director of the National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The ATSDR is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The comment under Breysse’s name was filed last year with the EPA in response to an updated agency review of glyphosate and urged the agency to review “documented evidence” that glyphosate was harmful and should be banned.

For months the comment sat on the EPA website under Breysse’s name. It was only after U.S. Right to Know sought commentary last week from Breysse about his statement that the EPA removed his name. The comment now is attributed to “Anonymous,” after Breysse’s employer determined it was not actually submitted by him, according to the EPA.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup and other herbicides and was popularized by Monsanto, a unit of Bayer AG. It is considered the most widely used herbicide in the world. It is also one of the most controversial and is the subject of lawsuits brought by tens of thousands of people who claim they developed cancer because of exposure to Roundup and other glyphosate herbicides made by Monsanto.

The EPA has steadfastly defended the safety of glyphosate despite findings by many independent scientists that glyphosate herbicides can cause a range of illness and disease, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The comment under Breysse’s name contradicted the EPA’s position:

“Numerous studies have linked its use to an increase in lymphomas, and it’s time we stopped letting the chemical industry manipulate research to serve its own interest. U.S. citizens need to trust the Environmental Protection Agency to operate in our best interest, which means weighing evidence from neutral scientific sources not vested in the outcome.”

Notably, Breysse is also the ATSDR official who was pressured by EPA officials in 2015 at the behest of Monsanto to put a halt to a review of glyphosate toxicity then just getting underway at the ATSDR. The push to delay the ATSDR review of glyphosate came because Monsanto feared the ATSDR would agree with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in finding cancer links to glyphosate, internal Monsanto correspondence shows.

One internal Monsanto email said EPA official Jess Rowland told Monsanto he should “get a medal” if he was successful in killing the ATSDR glyphosate review.

The ATSDR review was in fact delayed until 2019 after the pressure from Monsanto and EPA officials. When the report was finally released, it did confirm Monsanto’s fears, lending support to the 2015 IARC concerns about links between cancer and glyphosate. The ATSDR report was signed by Breysse.

When asked about the change in attribution to the public comment, the EPA said it removed Breysse’s name after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which oversees ATSDR, told EPA the comment was not submitted by Breysse and asked that it be deleted or edited. Rather than delete the comment, EPA elected to keep the comment in the docket but changed the submitter’s name to “anonymous.”

The EPA said it does not screen or authenticate comments submitted.

The press office for the National Center for Environmental Health also said Breysse did not submit the comment in question. Breysse did not respond to a request to confirm or deny his authorship of the comment on the EPA website.

The original comment and the changed one are shown below:

Court frowns on Bayer’s proposed Roundup class-action settlement

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A federal judge on Monday had harsh words for Bayer AG’s plan to delay potential future Roundup cancer lawsuits and block jury trials, criticizing the highly unusual proposal crafted by Bayer and a small group of plaintiffs’ attorneys as potentially unconstitutional.

The “Court is skeptical of the propriety and fairness of the proposed settlement, and is tentatively inclined to deny the motion,” reads the preliminary order issued by Judge Vince Chhabria of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The judge’s position appears to be a sharp blow to Bayer and the company’s efforts to resolve a legacy of litigation attached to Monsanto, which Bayer bought two years ago.

More than 100,000 people in the United States claim exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based Roundup herbicides caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and that Monsanto long knew about and covered up the cancer risks.

Three jury trials have been held in the last two years and Monsanto lost all three with juries awarding more than $2 billion in damages. All the cases are now on appeal and Bayer has been scrambling to avoid future jury trials.

Last month Bayer said it had reached agreements to settle the majority of lawsuits currently filed and had crafted a plan for handling cases that likely would be filed in the future. To handle the current litigation Bayer said it will pay up to $9.6 billion to resolve roughly 75 percent of the current claims and will continue working to settle the rest.

In the plan for handling potential future cases, Bayer said it was working with a small group of plaintiffs’  attorneys who stand to make more than $150 million in fees in exchange for agreeing to a four-year “standstill” in filing cases. This plan would apply to people who may be diagnosed in the future with NHL they believe is due to Roundup exposure. In contrast to Monsanto’s settlement of the pending cases against it, settlement of this new “futures” class action requires court approval.

In addition to delaying more trials, the deal calls for the establishment of a five-member “science panel” that would take any future findings on cancer claims out of the hands of  juries. Instead, a “Class Science Panel” would be established to determine whether Roundup can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and if so, at what minimum exposure levels.  Bayer would get to appoint two of the five panel members. If the panel determined there was no causal connection between Roundup and non-Hodgkin lymphoma then the class members would be barred from future such claims.

Several members of the lead law firms who won the three Roundup cancer trials oppose the proposed class action settlement plan, saying it would deprive future plaintiffs of their rights while enriching a handful of lawyers who have not previously been at the forefront of the Roundup litigation.

The plan requires the approval of Judge Chhabria, but the order issued Monday indicated he does not plan to grant approval.

“In an area where the science may be evolving, how could it be appropriate to lock in a
decision from a panel of scientists for all future cases?” the judge asked in his order.

The judge said he will hold a hearing on July 24 on the motion for preliminary approval of the class action settlement. “Given the Court’s current skepticism, it could be contrary to everyone’s interest to delay the hearing on preliminary approval,” he wrote in his order.

Below is an excerpt of the judge’s order:

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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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.”

Settlement in Monsanto Roundup cancer litigation complicated by hold-out attorney

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What will it take to get Mike Miller to settle? That is the pressing question as one of the lead lawyers in the nationwide Roundup cancer litigation has thus far refused to align with fellow litigators in agreeing to settle cases on behalf of thousands of cancer patients who claim their diseases were caused by exposure to Monsanto’s herbicide products.

Mike Miller, head of the Orange, Virginia-based law firm that bears his name, has been unwilling to accept the terms of settlement offers discussed in mediation talks between Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG and a team of plaintiffs’ attorneys. That recalcitrance is a critical sticking point that is interfering with a resolution, sources close to the litigation say.

Instead, Miller’s firm is launching two new trials this month, including one that started today in Contra Costa, California, and one that starts Tuesday in St. Louis, Missouri. It is possible that Miller could agree to a settlement at any point, interrupting trial proceedings, however. Miller also has a trial set for February in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. That case, brought by cancer patient Elaine Stevick, would be the second trial to be held in federal court.

Miller’s move to continue to try cases separates him from other leading Roundup plaintiffs’ firms, including the Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman law firm of Los Angeles and the Denver, Colorado-based Andrus Wagstaff firm. Like the Miller firm, Baum Hedlund and Andrus Wagstaff represent several thousands plaintiffs.

Those firms have agreed to cancel or postpone multiple trials, including two that involved young children with cancer, in order to facilitate a settlement.

Some sources have pegged a potential settlement number at $8 billion-$10 billion, though some analysts have said that number would be hard to justify to Bayer investors, who are keeping a close eye on the developments.

Critics accuse Miller of acting in a way that could hurt the ability of thousands of plaintiffs to obtain payouts from Bayer, but supporters say he is championing his clients’ interests and refusing to accept terms he finds less than optimal. Miller is a veteran litigator who has a long history of taking on large companies, including pharmaceutical giants, over alleged product-related consumer injuries.

Mediator Ken Feinberg said it was unclear if there could be a global settlement achieved without Miller.

“Mike Miller has a view of what his cases are worth and is seeking what he thinks is appropriate compensation,” said Feinberg.  U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria appointed Feinberg to act as a mediator between Bayer and the plaintiffs’ attorneys last May.

Monsanto has lost all three of the trials held so far. The Miller Firm handled two of those trials – bringing in Baum Hedlund lawyers to help with the case of  Dewayne “Lee” Johnson (after Mike Miller was severely injured in an accident just prior to trial) and also with the case of husband-and-wife plaintiffs, Alva and Alberta Pilliod.  Johnson was awarded $289 million and the Pilliods were awarded more than $2 billion though the trial judges in each case lowered the awards. The other trial that has thus far taken place, on claims brought by Edwin Hardeman, was handled by the Andrus Wagstaff firm and attorney Jennifer Moore.

Miller’s bid to push new trials carries several risks, including the fact that Monsanto could prevail in one or more of the cases, which could provide leverage to Bayer in settlement talks. Conversely, though, if Miller were to win the trials that could offer fresh leverage for the plaintiffs to ask for more money.

The pressure to settle has been ratcheting higher for both sides.  Complicating factors include a ballooning of the number of plaintiffs’ signed by law firms around the United States amid the publicity of a possible settlement. Some media reports have pegged the total number of plaintiffs at 80,000 while some sources have said the number is well over 100,000. A large part of that number, however, reflects plaintiffs that are signed but have not filed actions in court, and some who have filed but do not have  trial dates. Any settlement now would represent a large percentage of plaintiffs, but not likely all, sources said.

All the cases allege that the cancers were caused by exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, including the widely used Roundup brand. And all allege Monsanto knew about, and covered up, the risks.

Among the evidence that has emerged through the litigation are internal Monsanto documents showing the company engineered the publishing of scientific papers that falsely appeared to be created solely by independent scientists; the funding of, and collaborating with, front groups that were used to try to discredit scientists reporting harm with Monsanto’s herbicides; and collaborations with certain officials inside the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect and promote Monsanto’s position that its products were not cancer-causing.

In the California trial that started today, Kathleen Caballero alleges that she developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after spraying Roundup from 1977 to 2018 as part of her work at a gardening and landscaping business, and in her operation of a farm.

In the trial set to start Tuesday in St. Louis, there are four plaintiffs- Christopher Wade, Glen Ashelman, Bryce Batiste and Ann Meeks.

A third trial is also set for this month in Riverside County Superior Court. That case was brought by Treesa Cotton, a woman who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2015 that she blames on exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup.

More Monsanto Roundup Cancer Trials Expected to be Postponed

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(UPDATE Jan. 8, 2020- On Wednesday, St. Louis County Court spokeswoman Christine Bertelson confirmed that one trial set to start Jan. 27 has been officially postponed with no new trial date yet set. That trial  was to pit a woman named Sharlean Gordon against Monsanto. )

Discussions are underway to postpone one or more highly anticipated Roundup cancer trials set to start in January, including trials scheduled for St. Louis, the former hometown of Roundup herbicide maker Monsanto Co., according to sources close to the litigation.

Court dockets still show trials scheduled for later this month in St. Louis and in California courts, and court officials say they are still planning for the trials to take place on the designated dates. But multiple  legal sources said the opposing sides were nearing agreements that would put off the trials by several months, if not longer. Attorneys for Monsanto and for the plaintiffs in the upcoming January trials declined to comment.

The talk of trial delays is not unexpected. Bayer AG, the German company that bought Monsanto in June 2018, successfully negotiated the postponement of several trials that had been set for the fall of 2019 after losing each of the three trials held to date. Each involved plaintiffs who claimed their cancers were caused by exposure to Roundup and other Monsanto glyphosate-based herbicides.

The juries  found not just that the company’s herbicides can cause cancer, but that Monsanto knew about the risks and hid the information from consumers. Bayer has estimated more than 42,700 people have filed claims in the United States against Monsanto, which is now a wholly owned unit of Bayer.

Bayer and a team of plaintiffs’ attorneys have been pursuing a potential settlement of the litigation that could amount to well more than $8 billion, the legal sources said.

Bayer has been particularly uneasy about trials scheduled for St. Louis, where former Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant has been subpoenaed to testify and the trial of plaintiff Sharlean Gordon is to be broadcast to the public. In the three previous trials, all held in California, Monsanto executives have given testimony through depositions and have not had to take the stand in front of juries.

“Trial postponements make perfect sense right now,” said Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Tom Claps. “I believe that it is in everyone’s best interest to stay out of the courtroom at this time, especially when negotiations seem to be progressing in a positive manner.”

Amid the maneuvering, more cases continue to stack up. Lawyers for Monsanto were in court Monday in Independence, Missouri to set a schedule and trial date for a newly filed lawsuit brought by a woman suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma she claims she developed due to her residential use of Roundup.

Gregory Chernack of the Washington, D.C., -based Hollingsworth law firm, one of Monsanto’s long-serving defense firms, told the judge in Independence that Monsanto wanted the case consolidated with roughly 30 others being overseen by a different judge in Kansas City, Mo. Attorneys for plaintiff Sheila Carver objected to the suggestion, and asked the judge to go ahead and set a trial date. Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Phillips decided to give the parties 30 days to file motions on the matter.

Bayer’s annual shareholders’ meeting is set for April 28 and analysts said investors would like to see either a settlement of the litigation by that time, or at least meaningful progress in containing the liability. Bayer’s stock took a dive, losing billions of dollars in value, after the first jury verdict in August 2018, and share prices remain depressed.

“Bayer’s stock has reacted negatively to each of the three trial verdicts. Therefore, Bayer does not want to face more negative trial headlines from losing another trial, especially while it is engaged in good faith settlement discussions,” said Claps.

There are multiple factors at play, however, including the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the appeals that are pending for each of the three trials. If an appellate court were to overturn the jury findings of Monsanto’s liability, it would weaken the plaintiffs’ bargaining power for a global settlement. Conversely, the company’s position would be weakened if the jury verdicts are upheld on appeal. But no decision is expected on the appeals for several more months at least.

In December, the U.S. Department of Justice took the rare step of intervening in the litigation to side with Monsanto and Bayer in the appeal of one of the verdicts.

Attorney for Roundup Cancer Plaintiffs Arrested on Criminal Charges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former Monsanto CEO Ordered to Testify at Roundup Cancer Trial

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Former Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant will have to testify in person at a St. Louis-area trial set for January in litigation brought by a cancer-stricken woman who claims her disease was caused by exposure to the company’s Roundup herbicide and that Monsanto covered up the risks instead of warning consumers.

Grant, who led St. Louis-based Monsanto from 2003 until the company was sold to Bayer AG of Germany in June of 2018, and spent a total of 37 years working for Monsanto, was subpoenaed by lawyers for plaintiff Sharlean Gordon, to testify at a trial slated to begin Jan. 27 in St. Louis County Circuit Court.

The Gordon trial was originally scheduled for August of this year but was delayed as part of an effort to undertake settlement talks between Bayer and lawyers for tens of thousands of plaintiffs who are suing Monsanto with claims similar to Gordon’s.

Two other trials set for January, both in courts in California and both involving children diagnosed with cancer, were recently postponed due to continued settlement talks.

Bayer estimates that there are currently more than 42,000 plaintiffs alleging that exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides made by Monsanto caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Grant did not have to testify live at the three Roundup cancer trials that have taken place so far because they were all held in California. But because Grant resides in St. Louis County, plaintiffs’ attorneys saw an opportunity to get him on the stand in person.

Attorneys for Grant have been fighting the subpoena, arguing that he is not a scientist or regulatory expert and he has already provided information in deposition testimony. Grant has also argued that he should not have to testify because he plans to be out of the country starting February 9.

But in a decision handed down Dec. 5, a special master appointed to the case sided with Gordon’s attorneys and ruled that Grant was not entitled to an order quashing the subpoena for trial testimony.

“Mr. Grant appeared for interviews on public radio representing that Roundup is not a carcinogen; in earnings calls for investors Mr. Grant personally responded that the classification of glyphosate as a probable carcinogen was ‘junk science;’ in 2016 Mr. Grant personally lobbied the EPA Administrator and the Agricultural Committee Chair of the topic of glyphosate,” the special master’s order states.

“Although Mr. Grant does not have scientific knowledge that doubtless will be a significant component to this lawsuit, he was CEO of Monsanto for 15 years and took part in presentations, discussions, interviews and other appearances for Monsanto as CEO in which the topics of Roundup and glyphosate were explained, discussed and defended,” Special Master Thomas Prebil said in his decision.

Gordon developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup herbicides for 25 years at her residence in South Pekin, Illinois, and has suffered extensive debilitation due to her disease. Gordon’s stepfather, who also used Roundup at the family home where Gordon lived into adulthood, died of cancer.  The case  is actually derived from a larger case filed in July 2017 on behalf of more than 75 plaintiffs. Gordon is the first of that group to go to trial.

In the three previous trials, unanimous juries have found that exposure to Monsanto’s herbicides does cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company did cover up the risks and fail to warn consumers. The three juries awarded a total of four plaintiffs more than $2 billion in damages, but the three trial judges have reduced the awards significantly in each case.

All are being appealed and none of the winning plaintiffs have yet received any of the monetary awards the juries ordered.

Johnson appeal delayed

The first plaintiff to win against Monsanto is a California school groundskeeper from California. Dewayne “Lee” Johnson was awarded $289 million by a jury in August 2018. The trial judge later lowered the damages to $78 million. Monsanto appealed seeking to overturn the jury decision and Johnson cross-appealed seeking to reinstate the full award of $289 million.

The California Court of Appeal 1st Appellate District said it would act swiftly in ruling on the consolidated appeals and lawyers for both sides initially hoped to have a ruling by the end of this year. But the case has been delayed for several weeks as both sides awaited a date for oral arguments. On Dec. 3, Monsanto’s attorneys asked the court not to schedule oral arguments in January or February, as several new Roundup trials are set for those months.  Johnson’s attorneys opposed that request for further delay.

On Friday, the court issued an order stating that while it agreed with Johnson about the need to
“schedule oral argument as soon as practicable,” it was unlikely oral arguments could be held until March of April “given the number and length of all the briefs to be considered, the outstanding motions that the court must rule on when considering the merits of the appeal,” and other factors.

Tech, Medical and Farm Groups Ask Appeals Court to Overturn Verdict Against Monsanto

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Groups representing farm, medical and biotechnology interests have filed briefs with the California Court of Appeal, aligning with Monsanto in asking the court to overturn last summer’s jury verdict that found Monsanto’s glyphosate-herbicides cause cancer and determined that the company spent years covering up the risks.

The groups are urging the appeals court to either throw out the win a San Francisco jury gave to school groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson in August of 2018 or to invalidate an order for Monsanto to pay punitive damages to Johnson. The Johnson trial was the first against Monsanto over claims that its glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Johnson is one of more than 18,000 plaintiffs making similar claims. The lawsuits allege that Monsanto was aware of scientific research showing an association between its herbicides and cancer but rather than warn consumers the company worked to suppress the research and manipulate scientific literature.

The jury in the Johnson case decided Monsanto should pay $289 million in damages, including $250 million in punitive damages. The trial judge in the case later slashed the punitive damage amount, reducing the total award to $78 million. Two other juries in subsequent trials over similar claims have also found in favor of plaintiffs and ordered large punitive damages against Monsanto.

Monsanto appealed the verdict and Johnson cross-appealed, seeking reinstatement of the full $289 million. Oral arguments are expected in this appeals court this fall with a potential decision from the appeals court before the end of the year.

One of the parties filing a brief supporting Monsanto’s position is Genentech Inc., a San Francisco biotech company with a history of doing research for cancer treatments. In its appeal to the court, Genentech argues that it has expertise as a “science company” and sees the Johnson verdict as a threat to scientific progress. “Courts must ensure the proper use of science in the courtroom in order for innovation to flourish in the marketplace…” the Genentech brief states.

Genentech announced earlier this year a fast-track review from the Food and Drug Administration for a drug treatment for people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

In backing Monsanto’s appeal, Genentech echoed complaints by Monsanto that Johnson’s lawyers did not properly present expert scientific testimony: “Genentech writes to highlight the importance of the proper screening of scientific expert testimony for companies with scientifically innovative products and consumers who rely on their innovations.”

The company also sided with Monsanto on the issue of punitive damages, arguing that companies should not be subject to punitive damages if their product has been reviewed by a regulatory agency such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and found to not pose a risk to human health.

“Allowing juries to award punitive damages for products that have been specifically examined and approved by regulatory agencies creates a large risk of confusion for life-science-based companies and may deter the progress of science,” the Genentech brief states. “If such punitive damages awards are allowed, companies face the risk of massive punitive damages awards unless they routinely second guess the safety decisions of regulators.”

On Tuesday the California Farm Bureau Federation filed its own brief supporting Monsanto. The farm bureau, which says it represents 36,000 members, said the case is of “vital concern” to farmers and ranchers who “depend on crop protection tools to grow food and fiber.”

Even though the Johnson verdict does not impact the regulation of glyphosate herbicides, the farm bureau argues in its brief that the industry fears restrictions on the chemical. The farm group additionally argued that the “trial court’s decision disregards federal law, as well as state law…” because it conflicts with the EPA’s finding that glyphosate is not likely to cause cancer.

Additionally, California associations representing doctors, dentists and hospitals weighed in on behalf of Monsanto arguing that the jury’s decision in the Johnson case was “subject to emotional manipulation” and not based on “scientific consensus.”

“The answer to the complex scientific question the jury was required to resolve in this case should have been based on accepted scientific evidence and rigorous scientific reasoning, not the jury’s policy choices. Even worse, there is reason to suspect the jury’s analysis was based on speculation and emotion,” the associations said in their brief.

Johnson’s attorney, Mike Miller, said he feels “real good” about the chances of victory in the appeals court and described the brief from the California Medical Association as the “same sophomoric brief they file against every victim of negligence.”

Missouri Trial Can Proceed

In separate action in Missouri , the state’s supreme court said on Tuesday that a trial set to start Oct. 15 in the city of St. Louis can proceed as planned on behalf of plaintiff Walter Winston. Other plaintiffs who had joined in Winston’s complaint against Monsanto are expected to be severed and/or have their cases delayed, according to a decision by the Missouri Supreme Court. Monsanto had asked the high court to prohibit the trial from taking place due to the fact that several plaintiffs do not reside in the area.

The Supreme Court instructed St. Louis City Judge Michael Mullen “take no further action” at this time in the cases of the 13 plaintiffs.

Monsanto was acquired by Bayer AG in June of 2018, and Bayer’s share prices fell sharply following the Johnson verdict and have remained depressed. Investors are pressing for a global settlement to end the litigation.