Appeals court denies Monsanto bid for Roundup case rehearing

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A California appeals court on Tuesday rejected Monsanto’s effort to trim $4 million from the amount of money it owes a California groundskeeper who is struggling to survive cancer that a jury found was caused by the man’s exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides.

The Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District of California also rejected the company’s request for a rehearing of the matter.  The court’s decision followed its ruling last month slamming Monsanto  for its denial of the strength of the evidence that its glyphosate-based weed killers cause cancer. In that July ruling, the court said that plaintiff Dewayne “Lee” Johnson had presented “abundant” evidence that Monsanto’s weed killer caused his cancer.  “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 appeals court stated in its July decision.

In that decision from last month, the appeals court did, however, cut the damage award owed to Johnson, ordering Monsanto to pay $20.5 million, down from $78 million ordered by the trial judge and down from $289 million ordered by the jury who decided Johnson’s case in August 2018.

In addition to the $20.5 million Monsanto owes Johnson, the company is ordered to pay $519,000 in costs.

Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer AG in 2018, had urged the court to cut the award to Johnson to $16.5 million.

Dicamba decision also stands

Tuesday’s court decision followed a decision issued Monday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denying a rehearing of the court’s June decision to vacate the approval of the dicamba-based weed killing product Bayer inherited from Monsanto. That June ruling also effectively banned dicamba-based herbicides made by BASF and Corteva Agriscience.

The companies had petitioned for a broader group of judges from the Ninth Circuit judges to rehear the case, arguing that the decision to revoke regulatory approvals for the products was unfair. But the court flatly rejected that rehearing request.

In its June decision, the Ninth Circuit said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had violated the law when it approved the dicamba products developed by Monsanto/Bayer, BASF and Corteva.

The court ordered an immediate ban on use of each of the company’s dicamba products, finding that the EPA “substantially understated the risks” of the dicamba herbicides and “failed entirely to acknowledge other risks.”

The court decision banning the company’s dicamba products triggered an uproar in farm country because many soybean and cotton farmers planted millions of acres of genetically altered dicamba-tolerant crops developed by Monsanto with the intent of treating weeds in those fields with the dicamba herbicides made by the three companies. Similar to “Roundup Ready” glyphosate-tolerant crops, the dicamba-tolerant crops allow farmers to spray dicamba over their fields tyo kill weeds without harming their crops.

When Monsanto, BASF and DuPont/Corteva rolled out their dicamba herbicides a few years ago they  claimed the products would not volatize and drift into neighboring fields as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do. But those assurances proved false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage.

More than one million acres of crops not genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba were reported damaged last year in 18 states, the federal court noted in its June ruling.

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.”

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:

Fresh talk of a settlement between Bayer and Roundup cancer patients

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There was renewed talk of a potential settlement this week between Bayer AG and tens of thousands of cancer patients as a key court hearing looms next week.

According to a report in Bloomberg, lawyers for Bayer have reached verbal agreements with U.S. lawyers representing at least 50,000 plaintiffs who are suing Monsanto over claims that Roundup and other Monsanto herbicides caused the plaintiffs to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The details as reported by Bloomberg appear to be mostly unchanged from prior verbal agreements between Bayer and plaintiffs’ attorneys that fell apart during the Coronavirus-related courthouse closings. With the courthouses still closed, trial dates have been postponed, taking the pressure off Bayer.

But a new pressure point looms with next week’s hearing in the appeal of the first Roundup cancer trial. The California Court of Appeal First Appellate District is set to hear oral arguments on cross-appeals in the case of Johnson v Monsanto  on June 2.

That case, which pitted California groundskeeper Dewayne “Lee” Johnson against Monsanto, resulted in a $289 million damage award for Johnson in August 2018. The jury found not only that Monsanto’s Roundup and related glyphosate-based brands presented a substantial danger to people using them, but that there was “clear and convincing evidence” that Monsanto’s officials acted with “malice or oppression” in failing to adequately warn of the risks.

The trial judge in the Johnson case later lowered the damages to $78.5 million. Monsanto appealed even the reduced award, and Johnson cross-appealed seeking reinstatement of the full jury award.

In appealing the verdict, Monsanto asked the court to either reverse the trial decision and enter a judgment for Monsanto or reverse and remand the case for a new trial. At the very least, Monsanto asked the appeals court to reduce the portion of the jury award for “future noneconomic damages” from $33 million to $1.5 million and to wipe out the punitive damages altogether.

The appeals court judges gave an early hint about how they were leaning on the case, notifying lawyers for the two sides that they should be prepared to discuss the question of damages in the June 2 hearing. Plaintiffs’ attorneys have taken that as an encouraging sign that the judges may not be planning to order a new trial.

Under the terms of the settlement that has been discussed for the last several months, Bayer would pay out a total of $10 billion to bring closure to cases held by several large firms, but would not agree to put warning labels on its glyphosate-based weed killers, as had been demanded by some of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

The settlement would not cover all of the plaintiffs with pending claims. Nor would it cover Johnson or the other three plaintiffs who already won their claims at trial. Monsanto and Bayer have appealed all the trial losses.

Lawyers at the major firms involved in the litigation declined to discuss the current situation.

Bayer officials have denied there is any scientific evidence linking glyphosate herbicides to cancer, but investors have been pushing for a settlement to resolve the litigation. It would be beneficial to Bayer to settle the cases before any adverse ruling by the appellate court, which could further rattle the company’s shareholders. Bayer bought Monsanto in June of 2018. Following the Johnson trial loss in August 2018, the company’s share price plummeted and has remained under pressure.

Frustrated Plaintiffs

The first lawsuits in the Roundup cancer litigation were filed in late 2015, meaning many plaintiffs have been waiting years for resolution. Some plaintiffs have died while they waited, with their cases now being carried forward by family members frustrated at the lack of progress in bringing cases to a close.

Some plaintiffs have been making video messages directed at Bayer executives, calling for them to agree to settlements and to make changes to warn consumers about potential cancer risks of glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup.

Vincent Tricomi, 68, is one such plaintiff. In the video he made, which he shared with US Right to Know, he said he has undergone 12 rounds of chemotherapy and five hospital stays fighting his cancer. After achieving a temporary remission, the cancer recurred earlier this year, he said.

“There are so many like me who are suffering and need relief,” said Tricomi.  Watch his video message below:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Louis Roundup cancer trial reset for Wednesday as California trial called off

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The drama continues in the closely watched battle between lawyers defending the former Monsanto Co. and those representing thousands of cancer victims who claim exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide gave them or a family member non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

On Friday, a California trial was officially postponed after more than a week of jury selection activities and the seating of 16 jurors. Instead of proceeding with opening statements, that trial has now been postponed indefinitely, with a case management conference set for March 31.

Meanwhile, the multi-plaintiff trial that was postponed just before opening statements last week in St. Louis has been rescheduled to open next Wednesday, sources close to the litigation said.

The St. Louis trial is particularly problematic for Monsanto because it involves four plaintiffs, including one woman whose husband died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and because the judge has ruled that the trial can be broadcast over the Courtroom View Network and through feeds to television and radio stations. Lawyers for Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG argued against broadcasting the trial, saying the publicity endangers its executives and witnesses.

Several trials have been pulled off the docket over the last several weeks as Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, has drawn closer to a global settlement of what amounts to well more than 50,000 claims – some estimates are more than 100,000. Bayer is looking to pay out roughly $10 billion in total to settle the claims, according to sources close to the negotiations.

The lawsuits all allege that the Monsanto was well aware of scientific research demonstrating there were human health risks tied to its glyphosate-based herbicides but did nothing to warn consumers, working instead to manipulate the scientific record to protect company sales.

Bayer investors are eager for the company to put an end to the litigation and head off more trials and the publicity that each brings.  Bayer’s lawyers have reportedly negotiated settlement payout for the clients of several large firms, but have been unable to reach agreement with two large plaintiffs’ firms – The Miller Firm of Virginia and Weitz & Luxenberg of New York.  The Miller firm represents the plaintiffs in both the California case just pulled from the docket and in the St. Louis case just put back on.

Shares rose last week when the St. Louis trial was abruptly postponed as lead attorneys from the two plaintiffs’ firms – Mike Miller and Perry Weitz – left the courthouse just before opening statements were scheduled to begin in order to continue last-minute talks with Bayer attorneys.

The postponement has frustrated onlookers, including the crew from Courtroom View Network, which remained at the courthouse this week awaiting news of when the trial might resume. They were told Friday morning only that the trial would not resume on Monday. They learned later it would resume Wednesday instead.

The first three trials went badly for Monsanto and Bayer as outraged juries awarded over $2.3 billion in damages to four plaintiffs. Trial judges lowered the jury awards to a total of roughly $190 million, and all are under appeal.

Those trials turned a public spotlight on internal Monsanto records  that show how Monsanto engineered scientific papers proclaiming the safety of its herbicides that falsely appeared to be created solely by independent scientists; used third parties to try to discredit scientists reporting harm with glyphosate herbicides; and collaborated with Environmental Protection Agency officials to protect Monsanto’s position that its products were not cancer-causing.

Bayer settlement of Roundup cancer claims still up in air

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Jurors selected to hear a St. Louis case pitting cancer victims against Monsanto have been told the trial that was postponed indefinitely last week could resume as early as next Monday, a court spokesman said, an indication that efforts by Monsanto owner Bayer AG to end nationwide litigation over the safety of Roundup herbicides is still in flux.

In another sign that a deal has yet to be secured,  jury selection in a separate Roundup cancer trial – this one in California – was continuing this week. The trials in St. Louis and California involve plaintiffs who allege they or their loved ones developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma because of exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides made by Monsanto, including the popular Roundup brand. Tens of thousands of plaintiffs are making similar claims in lawsuits filed around the United States.

Bayer bought Monsanto in June of 2018 just as the first trial in the mass tort litigation was getting underway.  Bayer’s share price was hammered after a unanimous jury found that Monsanto’s herbicides were the cause of the plaintiff’s cancer in that case and that Monsanto had hidden evidence of the cancer risk from the public.

Two additional trials results in similar jury findings and drew worldwide media attention to damning internal Monsanto documents that show the company engaged in a number of deceptive practices over many decades to defend and protect the profitability of its herbicides.

Bayer investors are eager for the company to put an end to the litigation and head off more trials and the publicity that each brings.  Shares rose last week when the St. Louis trial was abruptly postponed as attorneys for the plaintiffs huddled with attorneys for Bayer and indicated a global settlement of the litigation was near.

Numbers of $8 billion-$10 billion have been floated for weeks by litigation sources as a potential settlement total for the mass of cases that has dogged Bayer ever since it bought Monsanto for $63 billion.

Bayer has already negotiated settlement terms with several of the law firms leading the litigation, but has been unable to reach an agreement with the plaintiffs’ firms of Weitz & Luxenberg and The Miller Firm. Together the two firms represent close to 20,000 plaintiffs, making their participation in a settlement a key element to a deal that will appease investors, said sources close to the litigation.

Sources said that the two sides were “very close” to a deal.

In separate, but related news, The Kellogg Company said this week that it was moving away from using grains that have been sprayed with glyphosate shortly before harvest as ingredients in its consumer snacks and cereals. The practice of using glyphosate as a desiccant was marketed by Monsanto for years as a practice that could help farmers dry out their crops before harvesting, but food product testing has demonstrated that the practice commonly leaves residues of the weed killer in finished foods like oatmeal.

Kellogg’s said it is “working with our suppliers to phase out using glyphosate as pre-harvest drying agent in our wheat and oat supply chain in our major markets, including the U.S., by the end of 2025.”

St. Louis Roundup trial postponed as large settlement appears near

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Update – Statement from Bayer: “The parties have reached an agreement to continue the Wade case in Missouri Circuit Court for St. Louis. The continuance is intended to provide room for the parties to continue the mediation process in good faith under the auspices of Ken Feinberg, and avoid the distractions that can arise from trials.  While Bayer is constructively engaged in the mediation process, there is no comprehensive agreement at this time. There also is no certainty or timetable for a comprehensive resolution.”

The highly anticipated opening of  what would have been a fourth Roundup cancer trial was postponed indefinitely on Friday amid settlement negotiations between Monsanto owner Bayer AG and attorneys representing thousands of people who claim their cancers were caused by exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides.

St. Louis City Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Hogan issued an order stating only “cause continued.” The order came after lead lawyers from the plaintiffs’ firms of New York-based Weitz & Luxenberg and The Miller Firm of Virginia left Hogan’s courtroom unexpectedly shortly before opening statements were due to begin at mid-morning Friday. Sources close to the legal teams initially said opening statements were pushed back until early afternoon to allow for time to see if the plaintiffs’ attorneys and lawyers for Bayer could finalize a resolution that would settle tens of thousands of lawsuits. But by early afternoon the proceedings were called off and it was widely speculated that a deal had been achieved.

Numbers of $8 billion-$10 billion have been floated for weeks by litigation sources as a potential settlement total for the mass of cases that has dogged Bayer ever since it bought Monsanto in June of 2018 for $63 billion. The company’s share prices has been sharply depressed by repeated trial losses and large jury awards against the company in the three trials held to date.

Many more trials were to be held over the next few weeks and months, pressuring Bayer to settle the cases in time to assuage investors at its annual shareholders’ meeting in April.

Bayer officials have confirmed that more than 42,000 plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against Monsanto. But litigation sources say there are now more than 100,000 plaintiffs lined up with claims, though the current total number of actual filed claims is unclear.

The Weitz firm and the Miller firm combined represent the claims of roughly 20,000 plaintiffs, according to sources close to the firms. Mike Miller, who heads the Miller firm, is the lead attorney in the St. Louis trial that had been set to open Friday.

Miller has been a high-profile hold-out in the settlement talks with Bayer as several other lead plaintiffs’ attorneys have already signed on to a deal with the German pharmaceutical giant. Bayer needs to be able to achieve a resolution with a majority of the outstanding claims in order to appease disgruntled investors.

Mediator Ken Feinberg said last week that it was unclear if there could be a global settlement achieved without Miller. Miller was seeking “what he thinks is appropriate compensation,” Feinberg said. U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria appointed Feinberg to act as a mediator between Bayer and the plaintiffs’ attorneys last May.

The jury for the St. Louis trial had already been selected and the four plaintiffs and their family members were present Friday morning, lining the front row of the small courtroom.

Monsanto’s lawyers made a bid earlier Friday to block broadcasting of the trial by local television and radio stations but Judge Hogan ruled against the company. Friday’s trial would have been the first to take place in the St. Louis area, where Monsanto was headquartered for more than 100 years.

The first three trials went badly for Monsanto and its German owner Bayer AG as outraged juries awarded over $2.3 billion in damages to four plaintiffs. Trial judges lowered the jury awards to a total of roughly $190 million, and all are under appeal.

The trials have turned a public spotlight on internal Monsanto record  that showed how Monsanto engineered scientific papers proclaiming the safety of its herbicides that falsely appeared to be created solely by independent scientists; used third parties to try to discredit scientists reporting harm with glyphosate herbicides; and collaborated with Environmental Protection Agency officials to protect Monsanto’s position that its products were not cancer-causing.

Dust-up over media ahead of Roundup cancer trial opening

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Lawyers representing the opposing sides of the upcoming Monsanto Roundup cancer trial due to open Friday in St. Louis were huddled away from the courthouse on Thursday amid speculation that settlement talks between the plaintiffs attorneys and Monsanto owner Bayer AG were at a critical juncture.

In the absence of the attorneys, confusion over media access to trial proceedings erupted at a hastily called hearing at the St. Louis City Circuit Court after a clerk for Judge Elizabeth Hogan erroneously informed reporters that if they planned to observe the trial proceedings via a live feed from Courtroom View Network (CVN) they would need individual approval from the court. Reporters were told they must make an application for a court hearing on whether or not they could watch the live feed the court has agreed to allow CVN to provide.

CVN then sent a notice out to journalists alerting them to the fact that they may be barred from simply watching the proceedings remotely: “We’ve been informed that the Court has seemingly imposed a requirement that any member of the media wishing to watch the Roundup video feed via CVN must obtain specific permission from the court to do so. Our attorney is trying to contact the judge ASAP to resolve this, and hopefully it will be resolved,” said an email sent from CVN to journalists.

Additionally, the hearing was to take up the matter of whether or not CVN can provide pool access to certain broadcast news stations. Radio and television outlet that want to share some of the proceedings with their audiences will need to make individual pleas to the judge.

The hearing was aborted because attorneys for Bayer, who have objected to broadcasting the trial, were not present. Now the pool access issue is to be taken up Friday morning before opening statements in the trial, Gross said.

The limitations on simply watching the trial announced by the judge’s clerk turned out to be inaccurate, according to court spokesman Thom Gross. There are sharp limits on those who will be watching, however. No “downloading, recording, rebroadcasting or reposting of any content, including screen shots” is allowed.

The debate over how much visibility the trial could receive has been a lingering concern for Bayer as it seeks to resolve tens of thousands of lawsuits filed against its Monsanto unit alleging Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The plaintiffs additionally allege that Monsanto should have warned users but instead covered up the risks of its herbicides.

Evidence in three trials concluded to date has sparked global outrage over the corporate conduct of Monsanto, as plaintiffs’ attorneys have introduced internal Monsanto records in which company executives discussed ghostwriting scientific literature, secretly deploying third parties to discredit independent scientists, and benefiting from cozy relationships with officials at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Bayer has said that televising the St. Louis trial could endanger its employees, including former Monsanto executives.

Several of the plaintiffs’ law firms that spear-headed the nationwide litigation have agreed to cancel or postpone multiple trials, including two that involved young children with cancer, as part of the settlement talks with Bayer.

Bayer had made no secret of its desire to settle the mass tort litigation before any more trials take place. But one of the largest caseloads of plaintiffs is held by Virginia lawyer Mike Miller, and Miller has thus far refused to postpone the trials for his plaintiffs, apparently shrugging off settlement offers. Miller’s firm is providing lead counsel for the St. Louis trial and another in California that is still in the process of jury selection.

The Miller firm has several more trials coming up for its plaintiffs.

Monsanto loses effort to head off St. Louis trial that starts next week

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Monsanto’s German owner Bayer AG has failed in efforts to head off a Missouri trial over claims brought by cancer patients that Monsanto’s herbicide caused their diseases and Monsanto hid the risks.

In a ruling handed down Wednesday, St. Louis City Judge Elizabeth Byrne Hogan of Missouri’s 22nd Circuit ruled that the company wasn’t entitled to summary judgment in the case of Wade v. Monsanto, which is scheduled to go to trial Tuesday.

Hogan further frustrated Monsanto by ordering Thursday that the trial could be audio and video recorded and broadcast to the public. Lawyers for Monsanto had argued that the trial should not be broadcast because the publicity could endanger witnesses and former Monsanto executives.

Judge Hogan ruled that the trial would be open to audio and video recording and broadcast from its beginning on Jan 21 through the end of the trial, with several exceptions, including no coverage of jury selection.

The trial will be the first to take place in St. Louis, the former hometown for Monsanto before the company was acquired by Bayer in June 2018.

Monsanto lost the first three trials that have so far taken place. In those three trials, a total of four plaintiffs claimed exposure to the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused them each to develop types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto covered up evidence of the risks.

Representatives for both sides have been working with a court-appointed mediator since last May to try to resolve the litigation. As settlement talks have progressed, Bayer has successfully negotiated arrangements with certain plaintiffs’ law firms to postpone and/or cancel several trials, including one that had been set to get underway in the St. Louis area the last week of January. Among the cases pulled from the trial schedule are two cases involving cancer-stricken children and a case involving a woman who has suffered extensive debilitation from her bout with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

But while other firms pull back from trial plans, the Virginia-based Miller Firm, which is the lead counsel for the group of plaintiffs in the Wade case, has pushed forward. The Miller Firm already has two trial victories under its belt, having represented the first trial plaintiff, Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, and the most recent trial plaintiffs, Alva and Alberta Pilliod. The other trial that has thus far taken place, on claims brought by Edwin Hardeman, was handled by two separate firms.

In addition to the Wade case, the Miller firm has another trial due to start in California that will overlap with the Wade case if both proceed as planned.

Several of the lead law firms involved in the litigation stopped accepting new clients months ago, but other attorneys around the United States have continued to advertise, drawing in more potential plaintiffs. Some sources say the list of plaintiffs now totals more than 100,000 people. Last year Bayer reported to investors that the list of plaintiffs in the Roundup litigation totaled more than 42,000.

In ruling against Monsanto’s bid for summary judgment, Judge Hogan shot down an assortment of arguments asserted by the company’s lawyers, including Monsanto’s repeated effort to claim that because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concludes glyphosate is not carcinogenic, a federal legal  preemption exists.

“Defendant has not cited a single case that holds that the EPA’s regulatory scheme preempts claims such as Plaintiffs’,” Judge Hogan said in her ruling. “Every court presented with this issue has rejected it.”

With respect to the company’s argument that a jury should not be entitled to consider punitive damages, the judge said that would be a matter for consideration after seeing evidence presented at trial. She wrote: “Defendant argues that because Roundup has been consistently approved by the EPA and other regulatory agencies, its conduct cannot be considered willful, wanton or reckless as a matter of law. Plaintiffs respond that they will present evidence of Monsanto’s reckless disregard for the safety of others, and despicable and vile conduct, which has been held sufficient to submit the claim of punitive damages to the jury in other cases that have been tried. Defendant is not entitled to summary judgment on punitive damages.”