St. Louis Trial over Monsanto Roundup Cancer Claims in Limbo

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An October trial pitting a group of cancer patients against Monsanto in the company’s former home state of Missouri is snared in a tangled web of actions that threaten to indefinitely postpone the case.

New court filings show that lawyers for both sides of Walter Winston, et al v. Monsanto have been engaging in a series of strategic moves that may now be backfiring on them leading up to the trial date of Oct. 15 date set by St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Michael Mullen. Lawyers for the 14 plaintiffs named in the Winston lawsuit have been pushing to keep their case on track so they can present claims from the cancer victims to a St. Louis jury next month. But Monsanto lawyers have been working to delay the trial and disrupt the combination of plaintiffs.

The Winston lawsuit, filed in March of 2018, would be the first trial to take place in the St. Louis area. Before selling to the German company Bayer AG last year, Monsanto was based in the suburb of Creve Couer and was one of the largest St. Louis area-based employers.  Roundup cancer trials that had been set for St. Louis area in August and September have both already been delayed until next year.

The plaintiffs in the Winston case are among more than 18,000 people in the United States suing Monsanto claiming that exposure to the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto hid the risks associated with its weed killers.

The back and forth battling over where and when the Winston trial may or may not take place began more than a year ago and has involved not only the local St. Louis court but also the appeals court in Missouri and the state Supreme Court.

In March of this year Monsanto filed a motion to sever and transfer 13 of the 14 plaintiffs in the Winston case from the St. Louis City Court to the Circuit Court for the County of St. Louis, where the company’s registered agent was located and where “venue is proper.”  The motion was denied. The company had filed a similar motion in 2018 but it also was denied.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers opposed such a severing and transfer earlier this year, but they have now changed that stance because amid all the maneuvering, Monsanto has been seeking intervention by the Missouri Supreme Court. The state’s high court ruled earlier this year in an unrelated case that it was not proper for plaintiffs located outside St. Louis City to join their cases to a city resident in order to obtain venue in St. Louis City. St. Louis City court has long been considered a favorable venue for plaintiffs in mass tort actions

Monsanto’s bid for intervention by the Missouri Supreme Court was rewarded on Sept. 3 when the Supreme Court issued a “preliminary writ of prohibition” allowing Walter Winston’s individual case to “proceed as scheduled” in St. Louis City Circuit Court. But the court said that the cases of the 13 other plaintiffs joined in Winston’s lawsuit could not proceed at this time as it considers how to handle the cases. The court ordered a freeze on any further actions by the St. Louis City Court, “until the further order of this Court.”

Fearing their case will be broken apart and/or delayed waiting for a Supreme Court decision on venue, the plaintiffs’ lawyers on Sept. 4 said they were withdrawing their opposition to Monsanto’s request for a transfer of the case to St. Louis County.

But now Monsanto no longer wants the case transferred given the Supreme Court’s action. In a filing last week the company said: “Plaintiffs fought venue at every opportunity, instead of agreeing to transfer their claims to St. Louis County and seeking a trial setting in that Court long ago. Rewarding the Winston Plaintiffs for this choice will only encourage further gamesmanship.”

On Monday, the plaintiffs’ attorneys filed a response arguing that the Winston plaintiffs should be transferred to St. Louis County as Monsanto had previously requested and that would make the venue issue before the court moot. They also argued that the judge in St. Louis City who has been presiding over the Winston case should continue to handle the case within the county court system.

“With the withdrawal of their opposition to Monsanto’s motion, Plaintiffs have consented to the very relief that Monsanto requests of this Court – transfer of the Winston plaintiffs to St. Louis County,” the plaintiffs’ filing states.  “The Winston plaintiffs’ case is trial ready. If the case is transferred to St. Louis County in short order, the Plaintiffs can begin trial on or close to the schedule currently in place.”

Whether or not a trial will still take place in mid October in St. Louis is still an open question.

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.

“Serious, Deadly Injury” Cited in New Appeals Court Filing Over Roundup Cancer Claims

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 A California appeals court should reject efforts by Monsanto to overturn a jury verdict awarding millions of dollars to a school groundskeeper and approve $250 million in punitive damages the jury ordered a year ago this month in the first Roundup cancer trial, according to a brief in the case filed Monday.

The brief filed by lawyers for Dewayne “Lee” Johnson responds to arguments by Monsanto made in the appeal and cross-appeal lodged in the state appellate court. The appeal was initiated last year by Monsanto following an Aug. 10, 2018 jury decision that marked the first of three courtroom losses for the agrochemical giant and its owner Bayer AG. The jury in the Johnson case awarded $289 million in total damages, including $250 in punitive damages. The trial judge then lowered the punitive amount to $39 million for total damages of $78 million.

While Monsanto wants the entire jury decision thrown out, Johnson’s attorneys are asking for the total of $289 million to be restored by the appeals court.

Johnson is one of roughly 18,400 people suing Monsanto over allegations that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and claims that Monsanto has spent decades covering up the risks.

Both sides in the Johnson appeal are awaiting the scheduling of oral arguments, which are expected within the next couple of months. A decision by the appeals court could come before the end of the year.

The appellate decision could be pivotal. Bayer shares plummeted after the Johnson verdict and have continued to be weighed down by two more jury decisions against Monsanto in two subsequent trials. Bayer has indicated it is ready to talk about a global settlement of the Roundup cancer litigation, and a decision by the appeals court could substantially impact the direction and outcome of settlement talks.

In the brief filed Monday, Johnson’s lawyers argued that Monsanto’s conduct was so “reprehensible” as to warrant much more than a “slap on the wrist,” and cited precedent court decisions finding that punitive damage awards equal to 5 percent of a defendant’s net worth is appropriate for “minimally reprehensible behavior.”

Based on Monsanto’s stipulated net worth of $6.8 billion, the punitive damage award of $250 million equals 3.8% and is “a light punishment considering Monsanto’s highly reprehensible behavior,” lawyers for Johnson stated in their brief. The punitive damage award of $250 million “is not unreasonable and it appropriately serves California’s goals of protecting public health, deterring future corporate malfeasance and punishing Monsanto,” the brief states.

The Johnson argument goes into great detail about evidence obtained through discovery, including internal Monsanto emails in which company scientists discussed ghostwriting scientific literature, Monsanto worries about how to counter building evidence of genotoxicity with its herbicides, the company’s failure to do carcinogenicity testing of its formulations, Monsanto’s cultivation of friendly officials within the Environmental Agency (EPA) for backing, and the company’s secret payments to front groups like the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) to promote the safety of Monsanto’s herbicides.

Johnson’s attorneys say Monsanto’s deceptive conduct has been similar to that of the tobacco industry.

“The Serious, Deadly Injury Suffered by Johnson Supports a Finding that Monsanto’s Conduct Was Highly Reprehensible,” the Johnson brief states. Johnson’s terminal diagnosis and his very painful physical condition warrants the jury award of $289 million, his lawyers wrote.

“Johnson is suffering from extremely painful, disfiguring lesions all over his body, a consequence of the fatal NHL induced by Roundup,” the brief states. “In light of the high reprehensibility of Monsanto’s behavior, the deathly harm to Johnson, and the high net worth of Monsanto, the punitive damages award of $250 million dollars awarded by the jury comports with due process and should be upheld.”

Monsanto’s brief contradicts the Johnson position on every point and states that there is no legal reason to reinstate the $250 million punitive damage award. The company asserts that because the EPA and other international regulators back the safety of its herbicides, the courts should do the same.

“Monsanto had no duty to warn of a risk that, far from being a prevailing scientific view, worldwide regulators agree does not exist,” the Monsanto brief states. “Reinstatement of the $250 million punitive damage verdict would result in the largest judicially approved award of punitive damages in California history, in a case with exceedingly “thin” evidence of malice or oppression. There is no basis for an award of punitive damages in this case, much less the $250 million awarded by the jury.”

Johnson has additionally failed to establish that Roundup “actually caused his cancer,” according to Monsanto. “Even if Plaintiff introduced some evidence to support a failure-to-warn claim, the worldwide regulatory consensus that glyphosate is not carcinogenic establishes the utter lack of clear and convincing evidence that Monsanto acted with malice,” the company’s brief states.

“The jury’s unusually large compensatory award is just as flawed. It is based on a straightforward legal error—that a plaintiff can recover pain-and-suffering damages for decades beyond his life expectancy—that was induced by counsel’s flagrant attempts to inflame the jury.

“In short, virtually everything in this trial went wrong,” the Monsanto brief states. “Plaintiff is entitled to sympathy, but not to a verdict that ignores sound science, distorts the facts, and subverts controlling law.”

St. Louis Judge Denies Monsanto Bid to Delay Another Roundup Cancer Trial

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Monsanto’s bid to postpone another upcoming Roundup cancer trials in St. Louis has failed – at least for the time being – as a judge has ordered that a trial set for October will proceed.

After hearing Monsanto’s argument last week seeking a continuance in the case of Walter Winston v. Monsanto, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Michael Mullen denied Monsanto’s request and said the trial would start Oct. 15.  Judge Mullen said that depositions and discovery in the case should continue until Sept. 16 with the jury selection process to begin Oct. 10.

The trial, if it takes place, would be the fourth time Monsanto has had to face cancer patients in a courtroom to answer allegations that its Roundup herbicide products cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company has sought to cover up information about the risks. Monsanto lost the first three trials and juries awarded more than $2 billion in damages, although each of the three jury awards have been reduced by the trial judges.

The Winston trial would also be the first trial to take place in Monsanto’s former hometown of St. Louis. Before selling to the German company Bayer AG last year, Monsanto was one of the largest St. Louis-based employers.

A trial that had been set to start in St. Louis on Aug. 19 was delayed by court order last week, and a trial that was set to start in September has also been continued.

After the trial continuance announced last week, sources said the company and lawyers for the plaintiffs were moving into serious discussions about a potential global settlement. Currently, more than 18,000 people are suing Monsanto, all alleging they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma due to Roundup exposure and Monsanto covered up the evidence of danger. Someone falsely floated a potential settlement offer of $8 billion, causing Bayer shares to rise sharply.

Bayer has been dealing with a depressed share price and disgruntled investors ever since the Aug. 10, 2018 jury decision in the first Roundup cancer trial. The jury awarded California groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson $289 million and found that Monsanto acted with malice in suppressing information about the risks of its herbicides.

Monsanto appealed the verdict to the California Courts of Appeal, and Johnson has cross-appealed seeking to restore his $289 million award from the reduced award of $78 million set by the trial judge. That appeal is continuing and oral arguments are expected in September or October.

As for the St. Louis situation, the Winston trial could still be derailed. The case has multiple plaintiffs, including some from outside the area, and that fact could put the case in the cross-hairs of an opinion  issued earlier this year by the Missouri Supreme Court, potentially tying up the Winston case indefinitely, according to legal observers.

Trump’s EPA Has “Monsanto’s Back”

In separate news, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week issued a press release to announce that it would not approve cancer warning labels required by the state of California for certain glyphosate-based herbicide products. The EPA said that labeling that states glyphosate is “known to cause cancer,” is false and illegal, and will not be allowed despite a California regulatory action ordering such labeling.

“It is irresponsible to require labels on products that are inaccurate when EPA knows the product does not pose a cancer risk. We will not allow California’s flawed program to dictate federal policy,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

California’s listing of glyphosate as a substance known to cause cancer came after the World Health Organization’s International Agency on the Research for Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate in 2015 as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

The fact that the EPA is taking this stance, and found it necessary to issue a press release, appears to validate internal Monsanto documents obtained through litigation discovery that show the EPA was believed to “have Monsanto’s back” when it comes to glyphosate.

In a report attached to a July 2018 email to Monsanto global strategy official Todd Rands, the strategic intelligence and advisory firm Hakluyt  reported to Monsanto the following:

“A domestic policy adviser at the White House said, for instance: ‘We have Monsanto’s back on pesticides regulation. We are prepared to go toe-to-toe on any disputes they may have with, for example, the EU. Monsanto need not fear any additional regulation from this administration.”

Speculation Over Settlement as Roundup Cancer Trial Postponed

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The mysterious delay of what was supposed to be a closely watched St. Louis showdown over claims that Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides cause cancer has stirred speculation that a settlement may be in the offing and heartened investors in Monsanto’s German owner Bayer, who feared a fourth trial loss.

The trial in St. Louis, Monsanto’s former long-time hometown, was set to begin Aug. 19 and feature live testimony from several Monsanto executives subpoenaed by the legal team representing plaintiff Sharlean Gordon. Gordon is one of roughly 18,000 plaintiffs suing Monsanto alleging not only that the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company knew about the risks but rather than warning users instead acted to suppress and manipulate scientific research.

The three previous trials, which Monsanto lost, were all held in California courts where Monsanto executives could not be compelled to testify live in front of a jury. But in St. Louis they would almost certainly be forced to appear. Plaintiff’s counsel had plans to call former Monsanto Chairman Hugh Grant, as well as company scientists William Heydens, Donna Farmer, and William Reeves. Larry Kier, a Monsanto consultant who became caught up in a ghost-writing scandal, was also on the plaintiff’s list to be called as a witness.

Bayer had its own firepower headed for St. Louis in the form of famed attorney Phil Beck. The company has tried three different legal teams for the three trials so far, adding Beck to the case this summer. Beck, of the Chicago-based Barlit Beck law firm, headed George W. Bush’s trial team in the Florida recount litigation that determined the 2000 presidential election. Beck was tapped to represent the United States in United States v. Microsoft,  in one phase of the Microsoft antitrust action.

It was late Monday afternoon when St. Louis County Court Judge Brian May informed court personnel that the Gordon v. Monsanto trial would be postponed until January. May said he would issue an order at a later date, according to court spokeswoman Christine Bertelson.

Judge May is on vacation this week but wanted to make his intentions clear now because the process of gathering a jury pool for the trial was getting underway. He wanted that process halted to avoid wasting court time and resources and the time of prospective jurors given the trial was being delayed, Bertelson said.

Legal observers said the judge would not delay a trial this close to the opening unless both parties had agreed to the continuance. Neither would comment publicly on whether or not settlement talks were underway for the Gordon case.

Both parties have made it known that they wish to negotiate a global settlement in the Roundup litigation, though sources associated both with Bayer and plaintiffs’ counsel said potential settlement talks may focus initially on the Gordon case alone, or possibly Gordon’s claims along with additional St. Louis plaintiffs.

In a call with investors on July 30, Bayer CEO Werner Baumann said  the company was “constructively engaging in the mediation process” and would “only consider a settlement if financially reasonable and if we can achieve finality of the overall litigation.”

Baumann has come under withering criticism for his touting of the $63 billion acquisition of Monsanto. Within only two months after closing the deal, Bayer share prices plummeted when the first Roundup cancer trial resulted in a unanimous jury verdict of $289 million against the company. Total jury awards in the three trials to date have surpassed $2 billion in punitive damages alone, though judges in the three cases have lowered the punitive awards.

Investors lodged a vote of no confidence against Baumann earlier this year due to the roughly 40 percent drop in share value attributed to the Monsanto litigation.

Investors generally would welcome a global settlement of the litigation, according to investment analysts following Bayer. There has been speculation in the analyst community that a settlement could top $10 billion.

Gordon, 52, was expected to be a particularly compelling plaintiff, according to her attorney Aimee Wagstaff. Gordon, a mother of two, has suffered multiple rounds of unsuccessful cancer treatment for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma, as the cancer has spread through her body over many years. She recently suffered a setback with a diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).

Gordon developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup herbicides for 25 years at her residence in South Pekin, Illinois. Gordon’s stepfather, who also used Roundup at the family home, 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.

St. Louis Roundup Cancer Trial Reset for January, Talk of Bayer Settlement

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The much-anticipated Roundup cancer trial set to get underway in two weeks in Monsanto’s former hometown of St. Louis is being rescheduled,  according to the a spokeswoman for the St. Louis County Court where the trial was set to begin Aug 19.

Court spokeswoman Christine Bertelson said Judge Brian May, who is overseeing the case of Gordon v. Monsanto, communicated late Monday that the trial was being continued, but no official order has yet been entered into the court file.  Jury questionnaires were due next week and the voir dire selection of the jury was set for Aug. 18 with opening statements Aug. 19.

Judge May is rescheduling the trial for January and will issue an order within the next few days, according to Bertelson.

Aimee Wagstaff, lead attorney for plaintiff Sharlean Gordon, said that a continuance was a possibility but nothing official was determined at this point.

“The judge has not entered an order continuing the trial,” Wagstaff said. “Of course, as with every trial, a continuance is always a possibility for factors often outside control of the parties. Ms. Gordon is ready to try her case on August 19 and will be disappointed if the case is in fact continued. We are ready on whatever day the trial does commence.”

Gordon developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup herbicides for 25 years at her residence in South Pekin, Illinois. Gordon 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.

Before selling to Germany-based Bayer AG last summer, Monsanto was headquartered in the St. Louis, Missouri area for decades, and still maintains a large employment and philanthropic presence there. Bayer recently announced it would add 500 new jobs to the St. Louis area.

Last week, Judge May denied Monsanto’s motion seeking a summary judgment in favor of Monsanto, and denied the company’s bid to exclude plaintiff’s expert witnesses.

Bayer has been under great pressure to settle the cases, or at least avoid the specter of another high-profile courtroom loss after losing all three of the first Roundup cancer trials. The company is currently facing more than 18,000 plaintiffs alleging that exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup, caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The lawsuits allege that Monsanto knew of the cancer risk but failed to warn users and worked to suppress scientific information about the cancer risk.

It is not uncommon for parties to discuss a potential settlement ahead of trial, and it would not be surprising for Bayer to offer a settlement for the Gordon case alone given the negative publicity that has been associated with each of the three trials. Evidence publicized through the trials has exposed years of secretive conduct by Monsanto that juries have found warranted more than $2 billion in punitive damages. The judges in the cases have also been harshly critical of what the evidence has shown about Monsanto’s conduct.

U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria said this about the company: “There’s a fair amount of evidence that the only thing Monsanto cared about was undermining the people who were raising concerns about whether Roundup caused cancer. Monsanto didn’t seem concerned at all about getting at the truth of whether glyphosate caused cancer.”

Last week, Bloomberg reported that Bayer AG Chief Executive Officer Werner Baumann said he would consider a “financially reasonable” settlement. The company’s shares have plummeted since the first jury verdict came down Aug. 10 awarding $289 million to California school groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson. Monsanto has appealed the verdict.

Some legal observers said that Bayer could be angling to delay the trial and/or simply distract plaintiff’s attorneys with settlement speculation.

Monsanto fails bid to banish experts from St. Louis Roundup cancer trial

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Monsanto is not finding an early hometown advantage as it prepares for the next Roundup cancer trial after the St. Louis judge who will oversee the trial denied Monsanto’s motion for summary judgment and denied the company’s request to ban experts scheduled to testify for the plaintiff.

Before selling to Germany-based Bayer AG last year, Monsanto was headquartered in the St. Louis, Missouri area for decades, and still maintains a large employment and philanthropic presence there. Some observers have speculated that a St. Louis jury may give Monsanto a good shot at its first trial win  in the sprawling litigation. The company lost the first three trials, all of which took place in California.

But St. Louis County Judge Brian May is not doing Monsanto any favors. In twin rulings, May denied Monsanto’s motion for summary judgment before trial and rejected the company’s request to exclude the opinions of seven expert witnesses that the plaintiff’s attorneys plan to call to testify.

Judge May also ordered that the trial can be recorded and televised via Courtroom View Network from its start on Aug. 19 until conclusion.

The plaintiff in the case is Sharlean Gordon, a cancer-stricken woman in her 50s who used Roundup herbicides for more than 15 years at her residence in South Pekin, Illinois.  Gordon v. Monsanto is actually derived from a case filed in July 2017 on behalf of more than 75 plaintiffs. Gordon is the first of that group to go to trial.

Her case, like that of the thousands of others filed around the United States, alleges use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto has long known about the potential risks but instead of warning users has actively worked to suppress information.

Gordon was diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a subtype of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, in 2006.  She was told her cancer was in remission in 2007 but it returned in 2008.  Since then she has gone through two stem cell transplants and spent a lengthy period in a nursing home. She remains very debilitated, according to attorney Aimee Wagstaff.

Wagstaff was the winning attorney in the second Roundup cancer trial, Edwin Hardeman v. Monsanto. In that federal court case, a San Francisco jury returned a verdict of approximately $80 million for Hardeman, including punitive damages of $75 million.  U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria reduced the punitive damages awarded Hardeman to $20 million from $75 million, putting the total award at  $25,313,383.02.

The jury awards in the other two Roundup cancer trials have also been reduced by the trial judges. In the most recent trial a judge cut the damages awarded an elderly couple from approximately $2 billion to $86 million. And in the first Roundup cancer trial, the judge cut a $289 million verdict awarded to a California school groundskeeper down to $78 million.  

Up Next – Trial In Monsanto’s Hometown Set for August After $2 Billion Roundup Cancer Verdict

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After three stunning courtroom losses in California, the legal battle over the safety of Monsanto’s top-selling Roundup herbicide is headed for the company’s hometown, where corporate officials can be forced to appear on the witness stand, and legal precedence shows a history of anti-corporate judgments.

Sharlean Gordon, an cancer-stricken woman in her 50s, is the next plaintiff currently set for trial.  Gordon v. Monsanto starts Aug. 19 in St. Louis County Circuit Court, located just a few miles from the St. Louis, Missouri-area campus that was the company’s longtime world headquarters until Bayer bought Monsanto last June. The case was filed in July 2017 on behalf of more than 75 plaintiffs and Gordon is the first of that group to go to trial.

According to the complaint, Gordon purchased and used Roundup for at least 15 continuous years through approximately 2017 and was diagnosed with a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2006. Gordon has gone through two stem cell transplants and spent a year in a nursing home at one point in her treatment. She is so debilitated that it is difficult for her to be mobile.

Her case, like that of the thousands of others filed around the United States, alleges use of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused her to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“She’s been through hell,” said St. Louis attorney Eric Holland, one of the legal team members representing Gordon.  “She’s horribly injured. The human toll here is tremendous. I think Sharlean is really going to put a face on what Monsanto’s done to people.”

Gordon said the hardest part about preparing for trial is determining what evidence to present to the jury within the three-week time span that the judge has set for the trial.

“This evidence against them, their conduct, is the most outrageous I’ve seen in my 30 years of doing this,” Holland said.  “The things that have gone on here, I want St. Louis juries to hear this stuff.”

That Gordon trial will be followed by a September 9 trial also in St. Louis County in a case brought by plaintiffs Maurice Cohen and Burrell Lamb.

Monsanto’s deep roots in the community, including a large employment base and generous charitable donations throughout the area, could favor its chances with local jurors. But on the flip side, St. Louis is regarded in legal circles as one the most favorable places for plaintiffs to bring lawsuits against corporations and there is a long history of large verdicts against major companies. St. Louis City Court is generally considered the most favorable but St. Louis County is also desired by plaintiffs’ attorneys.

The approach of the August and September trials comes on the heels of a stunning $2 billion verdict issued against Monsanto May 13.  In that case, a jury in Oakland, California awarded married couple Alva and Alberta Pilliod, who both suffer from cancer, $55 million in compensatory damages and $1 billion each in punitive damages. The jury found that Monsanto has spent years covering up evidence that its herbicide causes cancer.

That verdict came only a little more than a month after a San Francisco jury ordered Monsanto to pay $80 million in damages to Edwin Hardeman, who also developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup.  And last summer, a jury ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million to groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson who received a terminal cancer diagnosis after using Monsanto herbicides in his job.

Aimee Wagstaff, who was co-lead counsel for Hardeman, is set to try the Gordon case in St. Louis with Holland. Wagstaff said she plans to subpoena several Monsanto scientists to appear on the witness stand to answer questions directly in front of a jury. She and the other attorneys trying the California cases were not able to force Monsanto employees to testify live because of the distance.

MEDIATION MEETING MAY 22

The trial losses have left Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG under siege. Angry investors have pushed share prices to the lowest levels in roughly seven years,  erasing more than 40 percent of Bayer’s market value. And some investors are calling for Bayer CEO Werner Baumann to be ousted for championing the Monsanto acquisition, which closed in June of last year just as the first trial was getting underway.

Bayer maintains that there is no valid evidence of cancer causation associated with Monsanto’s herbicides, and says it believes it will win on appeal.  But U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria has ordered Bayer to begin mediation talks aimed at potentially settling the sprawling mass of lawsuits that includes roughly 13,400 plaintiffs in the United States alone. All the plaintiffs are cancer victims or their family members and all allege Monsanto engaged in a range of deceptive tactics to hide the risks of its herbicides, including manipulating the scientific record with ghostwritten studies, colluding with regulators, and using outside individuals and organizations to promote the safety of its products while making sure they falsely appeared to be acting independently of the company.

A May 22 hearing is being held in part to define details of the mediation process. Bayer has indicated that it will comply with the order, but may not yet be ready to consider settling the litigation despite the courtroom losses.

Meanwhile, the litigation that originated in the United States has crossed the border into Canada where a Saskatchewan farmer is leading a class action lawsuit against Bayer and Monsanto making allegations that mirror those in the U.S. lawsuits.

“THE QUEEN OF ROUNDUP”

Elaine Stevick of Petaluma, California was supposed to be the next in line to take on Monsanto at trial. But in his order of mediation, Judge Chhabria also vacated her May 20 trial date. A new trial date is to be discussed at the hearing on Wednesday.

Stevick and her husband Christopher Stevick sued Monsanto in April of 2016 and said in an interview that they are eager to get their chance to confront the company over the devastating damage they say Elaine’s use of Roundup has done to her health. She was diagnosed in December 2014 at the age of 63 with multiple brain tumors due to a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called central nervous system lymphoma (CNSL).  Alberta Pilliod, who just won the most recent trial, also had a CNSL brain tumor.

The couple purchased an old Victorian home and overgrown property in 1990 and while Christopher worked on renovating the interior of the house, Elaine’s job was to spray weed killer over the weeds and wild onions that the couple said took over a good portion of the property. She sprayed multiple times a year until she was diagnosed with cancer. She never wore gloves or other protective clothing because believed it to be as safe as advertised, she said.

Stevick is currently in remission but nearly died at one point in her treatment, Christopher Stevick said.

“I called her the ‘queen of Roundup’ because she was always walking around spraying the stuff,” he said.

The couple attended parts of both the Pilliod and Hardeman trials, and said they are grateful the truth about Monsanto’s actions to hide the risks are coming into the public spotlight. And they want to see Bayer and Monsanto start warning users about the cancer risks of Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides.

“We want the companies to take responsibility for warning people -even if there is a chance that something would be harmful or hazardous for them, people should be warned,” Elaine Stevick said.

(Published first in Environmental Health News)

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Monsanto Ordered to Pay $2 Billion to Cancer Victims

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After less than two full days of deliberations, a California jury ordered Monsanto to pay just over $2 billion in punitive and compensatory damages to a married couple who both developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma they say was caused by their many years of using Roundup products.

After listening to 17 days of trial testimony, jurors said Monsanto must pay $1 billion to Alberta Pilliod, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma brain cancer  in 2015, and another $1 billion to her husband Alva Pilliod, who was diagnosed in 2011 with non-Hodgkin lymphoma that spread from his bones to his pelvis and spine. The couple, who are both in their 70s,  started using Roundup in the 1970s and continued using the herbicide until only a few years ago. The jury also awarded the couple a total of $55 million in damages for past and future medical bills and other losses.

In ordering punitive damages, the jury had to find that Monsanto “engaged in conduct with malice, oppression or fraud committed by one or more officers, directors or managing agents of Monsanto”  who were acting on behalf of the company.

Pilliod v. Monsanto is the third Roundup cancer case to go to trial. And it is the third to conclude that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides can cause cancer and that Monsanto has long known about – and covered up – the risks.

In March, a unanimous jury in federal court in San Francisco ordered Monsanto to pay roughly $80 million in damages for failing to warn plaintiff Edwin Hardeman of the cancer risks of Roundup herbicide. Last August, jurors in state court in San Francisco ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million  in damages to school groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, who is dying of non-Hodgkin lymphoma the jury found was caused by his exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicides. The judge in that case lowered the total verdict to $78 million and the verdict is now on appeal.

Both Johnson and Hardeman attended closing arguments in the Pilliod trial.

The Pilliod verdict is expected to only further erode the market value of Bayer AG, which purchased Monsanto last summer for $63 billion. Shares have dropped more than 40 percent since the Aug. 10 Johnson verdict was handed down.

More than 13,000 plaintiffs have filed similar lawsuits against Monsanto, alleging the company’s herbicides cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and the company has hidden the risks.

Evidence laid out in the three trials included numerous scientific studies that showed what plaintiffs’ attorneys said was proof Monsanto’s herbicides can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma. As well, the attorneys presented jurors with many internal Monsanto communications obtained through court-ordered discovery that show Monsanto has intentionally manipulated the public record to hide the cancer risks.

Among the many revelations that have emerged from the trials:

* Monsanto never conducted epidemiology studies for Roundup and its other formulations made with the active ingredient glyphosate to evaluate the cancer risks for users.

* Monsanto was aware that the surfactants in Roundup were much more toxic than glyphosate alone.

* Monsanto spent millions of dollars on covert public relations campaigns to finance ghostwritten studies and articles aimed at discrediting independent scientists whose work found dangers with Monsanto’s herbicides.

* When the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry sought to evaluate glyphosate toxicity in 2015, Monsanto engaged the assistance of EPA officials to delay that review.

* Monsanto enjoyed a close relationship with certain officials within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who have repeatedly backed Monsanto’s assertions about the safety of its glyphosate products.

* The company internally had worker safety recommendations that called for wearing a full range of protective gear when applying glyphosate herbicides, but did not warn the public to do the same.

Pilliod attorney Brent Wisner suggested to jurors in his closing arguments that they consider punitive damages in the range of $1 billion to send a message to Monsanto and Bayer about the need to change the company’s practices.

“The jury saw for themselves internal company documents demonstrating that, from day one, Monsanto has never had any interest in finding out whether Roundup is safe,” Wisner said following the verdict. “Instead of investing in sound science, they invested millions in attacking science that threatened their business agenda.”

Michael Miller, who served with Wisner as co-lead trial counsel said: “Unlike the first two Monsanto trials, where the judges severely limited the amount of plaintiffs’ evidence, we were finally allowed to show a jury the mountain of evidence showing Monsanto’s manipulation of science, the media and regulatory agencies to forward their own agenda despite Roundup’s severe harm to the animal kingdom and humankind.”

Bayer issued a statement after the verdict saying it would appeal: “Bayer is disappointed with the jury’s decision and will appeal the verdict in this case, which conflicts directly with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s interim registration review decision released just last month, the consensus among leading health regulators worldwide that glyphosate-based products can be used safely and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic, and the 40 years of extensive scientific research on which their favorable conclusions are based.

“We have great sympathy for Mr. and Mrs. Pilliod, but the evidence in this case was clear that both have long histories of illnesses known to be substantial risk factors for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), most NHL has no known cause, and there is not reliable scientific evidence to conclude that glyphosate-based herbicides were the “but for” cause of their illnesses as the jury was required to find in this case.”

The damage award breaks down as follows:

Alva Pilliod

Compensatory:

Past economic – $47,296.01

Past non-economic loss – $8 million

Future non-economic loss – $10 million

Punitive damages – $1 billion

Alberta Pilliod

Compensatory:

Past economic – $201,166.76

Past non-economic – $8 million

Future economic  – $2,957,710

Future non-economic – $26 million

Punitive damages – $1 billion

TOTAL – $2.055 billion  

A federal judge has ordered Bayer to start mediation with plaintiffs’ attorneys and a hearing is set for next week in San Francisco on that issue. Several more trials are scheduled over the next year in courts around the United States.

For more updates follow Carey Gillam on Twitter @careygillam 

Sparks to Fly in Closing Arguments at Third Roundup Cancer Trial

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After two costly courtroom losses, lawyers for Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG on Wednesday were set to make closing arguments in what is the third trial brought by people who blame their cancers on use of Monsanto’s Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killer brands.

Plaintiffs Alva and Alberta Pilliod, a married couple in their 70s who both have non-Hodgkin lymphoma, claim that Monsanto should be held liable for their illnesses because scientific evidence shows Monsanto’s herbicides can cause cancer and because Monsanto failed to properly warn of the risks.

While Monsanto has maintained that the weight of scientific evidence shows no causal connection between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and its glyphosate herbicides, lawyers for the Pilliods presented scientific evidence during the trial that does show a cancer link. Moreover, the plaintiffs’ attorneys showed jurors a trove of internal Monsanto communications and other records that they said displayed the company’s manipulation of scientific literature, including ghostwriting several papers published in scientific journals. Also among the evidence were records showing Monsanto efforts to influence regulatory agencies, to plant helpful stories in the global news outlet Reuters, and to discredit scientists who determined the company’s products were potentially carcinogenic.

Closing arguments are expected to take most or all of the day and tensions on both sides are high.

On Tuesday, Monsanto filed a motion seeking to head off what it said were likely to be “improper” closing arguments by the lawyers representing the Pilliods. They singled out attorneys Brent Wisner and Michael Baum for criticism, citing various actions.

“Monsanto has a real concern that counsel’s closing argument in this case will be replete with misconduct,” the motion states.

In the motion, Monsanto attorneys said that the Pilliod lawyers “already turned this trial into a circus on multiple occasions,” including by twice putting on gloves before handling a Roundup bottle that contained only water.

In addition, the lawyers “paraded around celebrities and anti-Monsanto advocates Neil Young and Daryl Hannah… engaging in photo-ops right outside the jury room in a clearly improper attempt to influence the jury.”

“If any members of the jury were to perform a simple Google search for Mr. Young or Ms. Hannah, they would quickly learn of their strong anti-Monsanto sentiment,” Monsanto said in its filing, pointing out that four years ago Young produced an album critical of the company called “The Monsanto Years.”

In addition, Monsanto said, “Ms. Hannah’s Twitter account contains numerous tweets about the Roundup trials, including one where she specifically wrote about her experience in court during this trial: “Well that was a trip! – of course I know these skeevy corporate cronies manipulate & lie – but to see it right in front of your eyes is soooo depressing & creepy.”’

Monsanto also said that Wisner’s characterization of the case as “historic” should not be allowed again. Similarly, none of the plaintiffs’ lawyers should be allowed to suggest that the verdict will “change the world or have any effect outside of this case,” Monsanto argued.

The tiny courtroom in Oakland, California is expected to be packed. Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, who won the first trial against Monsanto last summer, is expected to be in attendance, as is Edwin Hardeman, who won the second trial.

Like the two previous trials, internal Monsanto records have provided some drama. On Tuesday, internal communications from last summer were made available by the court indicating clear  White House support for Monsanto. In a report attached to a July 2018 email to Monsanto global strategy official Todd Rands, the strategic intelligence and advisory firm Hakluyt  reported to Monsanto the following:

“A domestic policy adviser at the White House said, for instance: ‘We have Monsanto’s back on pesticides regulation. We are prepared to go toe-to-toe on any disputes they may have with, for example, the EU. Monsanto need not fear any additional regulation from this administration.”