Challenge eyed to class action plan for Bayer Roundup settlement

Print Email Share Tweet

A plan to delay any new Roundup cancer claims for years and shift the key question of whether or not the weed killer causes cancer from a jury to a hand-picked panel of scientists faces potential opposition from some of the plaintiffs’ attorneys who initiated and led the mass tort claims against Roundup maker Monsanto, sources close to the litigation said.

Several members of the lead law firms who won three out of three trials pitting cancer patients against Monsanto are considering challenging the terms of a proposed “class action” settlement negotiated between Monsanto owner Bayer AG and a small team of  lawyers who have not previously been at the forefront of the Roundup litigation, the sources said.

The class action settlement proposal is an element of the sweeping $10 billion Roundup litigation settlement Bayer announced June 24.

In each of the trials held to date, juries found that the weight of scientific evidence proved that Roundup exposure caused the plaintiffs to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and that Monsanto covered up the risks. But under the proposal that question would go to a five-member “science panel,” not a jury.

“It’s basically depriving a plaintiff of their constitutional right to a jury trial,” said one source close to the litigation.

The proposed class settlement would apply to anyone exposed to Roundup who had not filed a lawsuit or retained a lawyer as of June 24, 2020, regardless of whether or not that person already had been diagnosed with cancer they believe was due to Roundup exposure.

The plan was put together by Bayer and the law firms of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein; Audet & Partners; The Dugan Law Firm; and lawyer Samuel Issacharoff, Reiss Professor of Constitutional Law at New York University School of Law.

The agreement was reached after nearly one year of “unrelenting efforts” of negotiations, lawyer Elizabeth Cabraser said in a declaration to the court supporting the proposed class settlement.

It would set a “standstill period” in which plaintiffs in the class cannot file new litigation related to Roundup. And it calls for class members to release “any claims against Monsanto for punitive damages and for medical monitoring related to Roundup exposure and NHL.”

Notably, the plan states that rather than go forward with another jury trial, a panel of scientists will first be set up to determine the “right answer” to “the threshold question” of whether or not there is a causal link between Roundup and NHL.

The plan calls for Bayer to pay up to $150 million for the fees and costs of the attorneys’ involved and “class representative service awards” up to $25,000 to each or a total of $100,000.

Overall, Bayer said it would set aside $1.25 billion for the arrangement. The money would be used to compensate class members diagnosed with NHL for the “effects of the delay” in litigation, and to fund research into the diagnosis and treatment of NHL, among other things.

A motion seeking preliminary approval of the class settlement was filed Wednesday with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to be handled by Judge Vince Chhabria. Chhabria has been overseeing numerous Roundup lawsuits that have been bundled together as multidistrict litigation. In shepherding a large number of the lawsuits already filed, Chhabria oversaw one of the Roundup trials, as well as what is known as a “Daubert” hearing, in which he heard days of scientific testimony from both sides and then decided there was sufficient scientific evidence of causation for the litigation to proceed.

The class settlement proposal was negotiated separately from the main settlement made with the lead law firms.

In the main settlement, Bayer agreed to provide $8.8 billion to $9.6 billion to resolve roughly 75 percent of the roughly 125,000 filed and unfiled claims brought by plaintiffs who blame exposure to Monsanto’s Roundup for their development of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  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.

Even though Monsanto lost each of the three trials held to date, Bayer maintain the jury decisions were flawed and based on emotion and not sound science.

Science Panel Selection

Bayer and the lawyers for the proposed class would work together to select the five scientists to sit on what would be a “neutral, independent” panel, according to the plan.  If they cannot agree on the make-up of the panel then each side will choose two members and those four members will choose the fifth.

No scientist who acted as an expert in the federal multidistrict Roundup litigation will be allowed to be on the panel. Notably, neither will anyone who “communicated with any expert” in the litigation about the subject matter.

The panel would have four years to review scientific evidence but can petition for an extension of time if necessary. The determination would be binding on both sides, the plan states. If the panel determines there is a causal link between Roundup and NHL, plaintiffs can go forward to seek trials of their individual claims.

“Knowledge is power and this Settlement empowers class members to hold Monsanto accountable for their injuries if and when the Science Panel determines that general causation is satisfied,” the plan states.

The filing with the federal court requests a preliminary approval hearing within 30 days.

Roundup cancer attorney pleads guilty to extortion attempt

Print Email Share Tweet

A Virginia lawyer who helped represent the first Roundup cancer plaintiff to take Monsanto to trial pleaded guilty on Friday to trying to extort $200 million from a chemical compound supplier to Monsanto.

Timothy Litzenburg, 38, admitted to a scheme in which he and another lawyer threatened to inflict substantial “financial and reputational harm” on the supplier unless that company paid the two attorneys $200 million disguised as a “consulting agreement.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Litzenburg allegedly told the company that if they paid the money, he was willing to “take a dive” during a deposition, intentionally undermining the prospects for future plaintiffs to try to sue.

Litzenburg was charged with one count each of attempted extortion, conspiracy and transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort. He pleaded guilty to one count of transmitting interstate communications with the intent to extort.

Lawyer Daniel Kincheloe, 41, pleaded guilty to the same charge for participating in the scheme.  The men are scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 18 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

“This is a case where two attorneys blew well past the line of aggressive advocacy and crossed deep into the territory of illegal extortion, in a brazen attempt to enrich themselves by extracting millions of dollars from a multinational company,” Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski said in a statement. He said that the plea shows that “when crimes are committed, members of the bar, like all members of the public, will be held accountable for their actions.”

Litzenburg was one of the attorneys for Dewayne “Lee” Johnson leading up to Johnson’s 2018 trial against Monsanto, which resulted in a $289 million jury award in Johnson’s favor. (The judge in the case lowered the verdict and the case is currently under appeal.)

The trial was the first of three that have taken place against Monsanto over allegations that the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Monsanto, and its German owner Bayer AG, have lost all three trials to date but are appealing the verdicts.

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

The Miller firm subsequently fired Litzenburg and filed a lawsuit in early 2019 alleging Litzenburg engaged in self-dealing, and “disloyal and erratic conduct.” Litzenburg responded with a counter-claim. The parties  negotiated a confidential settlement.

The criminal complaint against Litzenburg did not name the company Litzenburg tried to extort, but said that he contacted the company in September of  2019 year stating that he was preparing a lawsuit that would allege the company supplied chemical compounds used by Monsanto to create Roundup and that the company knew the ingredients were carcinogenic but had failed to warn the public.

According to the federal charges, Litzenburg told a lawyer for the company he was trying to extort that the company should enter into a “consulting arrangement” with him so as to create a  conflict of interest that would prevent him from filing the threatened litigation.

Litzenburg wrote in the email that the $200 million consulting agreement for himself and an associate was “a very reasonable price,” according to the criminal complaint.

Federal investigators recorded a phone call with Litzenburg discussing the $200 million he was seeking, the complaint states. Litzenburg was allegedly recorded as saying: “The way that I guess you guys will think about it and we’ve thought about it too is savings for your side. I don’t think if this gets filed and turns into mass tort, even if you guys win cases and drive value down… I don’t think there’s any way you get out of it for less than a billion dollars. And so, you know, to me, uh, this is a fire sale price that you guys should consider…”

Litzenburg claimed to be representing roughly 1,000 clients suing Monsanto over Roundup cancer causation allegations at the time of his arrest last year.

The Dicamba Papers: Key Documents and Analysis

Print Email Share Tweet

Dozens of farmers around the United States are suing the former Monsanto Co., purchased in 2018 by Bayer AG, and conglomerate BASF in an effort to hold the companies accountable for millions of acres of crop damage the farmers claim is due to widespread illegal use of the weed killing chemical dicamba, use  promoted by the companies.

The first case to go to trial pitted Missouri’s Bader Farms against the companies and resulted in a $265 million verdict against the companies. The jury awarded $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Southeastern Division, Civil Docket #1:16-cv-00299-SNLJ. The owners of Bader Farms alleged the companies conspired to create an “ecological disaster” that would induce farmers to buy dicamba-tolerant seeds. Key documents from that case can be found below.

The EPA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) plans to investigate the agency’s approvals of new dicamba herbicides to determine whether the EPA adhered to federal requirements and “scientifically sound principles” when it registered the new dicamba herbicides.

FEDERAL ACTION

Separately, on June 3, 2020. the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the Environmental Protection Agency had violated the law in approving dicamba herbicides make by Bayer, BASF and Corteva Agrisciences and overturned the agency’s approval of the popular dicamba-based herbicides made by the three chemical giants. The ruling made it illegal for farmers to continue to use the product.

But the EPA flouted the court ruling, issuing a notice on June 8 that said growers could continue to use the companies’ dicamba herbicides until July 31, despite the fact that the court specifically said in its order that it wanted no delay in vacating those approvals. The court cited damage done by dicamba use in past summers to millions of acres of crops, orchards and vegetable plots across U.S. farm country.

On June 11, 2020, the petitioners in the case filed an emergency motion seeking to enforce the court order and to hold the EPA in contempt. Several farm associations have joined with Corteva, Bayer and BASF in asking the court not to immediately enforce the ban. Documents are found below.

BACKGROUND: Dicamba has been used by farmers since the 1960s but with limits that took into account the chemical’s propensity to drift and volatilize- moving far from where it was sprayed. When Monsanto’s popular glyphosate weed killing products, such as Roundup, started losing effectiveness due to widespread weed resistance, Monsanto decided to launch a dicamba cropping system similar to its popular Roundup Ready system, which paired glyphosate-tolerant seeds with glyphosate herbicides. Farmers buying the new genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant seeds could more easily treat stubborn weeds by spraying  entire fields with dicamba, even during warm growing months, without harming their crops. Monsanto announced a collaboration with BASF in 2011. The companies said their new dicamba herbicides would be less volatile and less prone to drift than old formulations of dicamba.

The Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of Monsanto’s dicamba herbicide “XtendiMax” in 2016. BASF developed its own dicamba herbicide that it calls Engenia. Both XtendiMax and Engenia were first sold in the United States in 2017.

Monsanto started selling its dicamba-tolerant seeds in 2016, and a key claim by the plaintiffs is that selling the seeds before regulatory approval of the new dicamba herbicides encouraged farmers to spray fields with old, highly volatile dicamba formulations. The Bader lawsuit claims: “The cause of such destruction to Plaintiff Bader Farms’ crops is Defendant Monsanto’s willful and negligent release of a defective crop system – namely its genetically modified Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans and Bollgard II Xtend cotton seeds (“Xtend crops”) – without an accompanying, EPA-approved dicamba herbicide.”

Farmers claim that the companies knew and expected that the new seeds would spur such widespread use of dicamba that drift would damage the fields of farmers who did not buy the genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant seeds. The farmers allege this was part of a scheme to expand sales of the genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant seeds. Many allege the new dicamba formulations sold by the companies also drift and cause crop damage just as the old versions have done.

For more information about dicamba, please see our dicamba fact sheet.

Roundup cancer plaintiffs eagerly await settlement news

Print Email Share Tweet

Thousands of cancer patients and their families around the United States were notified this week that a comprehensive settlement of their claims against the former Monsanto Co. should be announced before the end of the month.

Though specific settlement amounts for specific plaintiffs are still to be determined, groups of plaintiffs have been told to expect details of a sweeping financial deal to be publicly announced before a June 30 deadline set for completing the year-long negotiations. All allege they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Roundup. They additionally allege that the company knew of scientific evidence showing cancer risks associated with its products, but worked to suppress the information to protect its profits.

Lawyers for Monsanto owner Bayer AG and lawyers representing more than 50,000 of the plaintiffs have been engaged in contentious, start-and-stop discussions about a settlement for several months, frustrating families who are struggling financially and emotionally with the strains of fighting cancer.

Many plaintiffs have lost jobs and homes as they deal with costly cancer treatments and some have died while waiting for their cases to be resolved, court records show. Notification of the death of one such plaintiff was made to the federal court in San Francisco on June 1.

Many of the lead law firms with large caseloads have agreed to the terms of a deal that calls for $8 billion-$10 billion to be paid by Bayer in exchange for an agreement that those firms will not file new cancer claims against the company, according to sources close to the litigation.

The amount of money each plaintiff gets will depend upon several factors. The settlements are expected to be structured so they will be tax-free for the plaintiffs.

Some law firms with Roundup plaintiffs have yet to finalize a deal, and settlement meetings were still being held last week, including with the Louisiana-based firm of Pendley, Baudin & Coffin, according to sources close to the litigation.

Bayer spokesman Chris Loder would not confirm the timing or terms of any announcement, saying only that the company had made progress in the negotiations but would “not speculate about settlement outcomes or timing.”

He said any resolution has to be “financially reasonable” and provide “a process to resolve potential future litigation.”

Bayer, which bought Monsanto in June of 2018, has been seeking to put an end to the mass litigation that has driven down the company’s stock, spurred investor unrest, and thrust questionable corporate conduct into a public spotlight.  The first three trials led to three losses for Monsanto and jury awards of more than $2 billion, though trial judges later sharply reduced the awards. Monsanto appealed each of the three losses and is now awaiting an appellate ruling on the first case – Johnson v. Monsanto – after a June 2 oral argument. 

Despite the settlement talks, court proceedings have been continuing on multiple cases. A flurry of lawsuits were recently transferred from state courts into the federal multidistrict Roundup litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco. And lawyers for Bayer have been busily filing their answers to the lawsuits.

In the city of St. Louis, Mo., Monsanto’s longtime home-town, the case of Timothy Kane v. Monsanto has a status hearing set for June 15 and a jury trial set to start June 29.  And though it appears very unlikely the case will proceed, on Wednesday lawyers for the chemical giant filed a motion seeking to exclude testimony of one of the witnesses for the plaintiffs.

.

EPA thumbs nose at court order, says farmers can still use illegal dicamba herbicides

Print Email Share Tweet

(UPDATES with comment from BASF)

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday declared it would not immediately honor a court ruling handed down last week that banned certain herbicides made by three of the world’s largest chemical companies.

The move by the EPA amounts to a generous gift to BASF, Bayer and Corteva Agrisciences whose dicamba herbicides were deemed by the court to have been approved by the EPA illegally. The court specifically said in its order issued last week that it wanted no delay in vacating those approvals. The court cited damage done by dicamba use in past summers to millions of acres of crops, orchards and vegetable plots across U.S. farm country.

But the EPA announced Monday that it was issuing a “cancellation order” that would give farmers until July 31 to use existing stocks of Bayer’s Xtendimax, BASF’s Engenia, and Corteva’s FeXapan.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the EPA made multiple errors in approving the dicamba products and came in response to a petition brought by the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity, and Pesticide Action Network North America.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS), whose lawyers argued the case for petitioners, said in a statement that the EPA’s action was “disingenuous” and “ignores the well-documented and overwhelming evidence of substantial drift harm to farmers from another disastrous spraying season.” The EPA action also ignores the risks dicamba poses to hundreds of endangered species, CFS said.

“The Trump administration is again showing it has no regard for the rule of law. All users that continue to not seek alternatives should be on notice that they are using a harmful, defective, and unlawful product. We will bring the EPA’s failure to abide by the Court’s order to the Court as expeditiously as possible,” CFS said.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue last week urged the EPA to figure out a way around the court ruling, echoing comments by Bayer, BASF and Corteva that called dicamba herbicides important “tools” for farmers growing genetically engineered soybean and cotton.

The EPA said in deciding to allow farmers to continue to use dicamba through the end of July it was responding to “numerous unsolicited phone calls and emails” telling the agency “there is a real concern and potential for devastation to cotton and soybean crops that could result in a crisis for the industry.”

The EPA did not acknowledge the scores of farmers growing crops other than dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton who have suffered crop losses from dicamba drift and fear another summer of crop damage.

Farmers have been using dicamba herbicides for more than 50 years but traditionally avoided applying the herbicide during hot summer months, and rarely if ever over large swaths of land due to the well-known propensity of the chemical to drift far from intended target areas where it could damage crops, gardens, orchards, and shrubs.

Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer in 2018, upended that restraint when it launched dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds a few years ago, encouraging farmers to spray new formulations of dicamba “over the top” of these genetically engineered crops during warm-weather growing months.

Monsanto’s move to create the dicamba-tolerant crops came after its glyphosate-tolerant crops and widespread spraying of glyphosate created an epidemic of weed resistance across U.S. farmland.

Farmers, agricultural scientists and other experts warned Monsanto and the EPA that introducing a dicamba-tolerant system would not only create more herbicide resistance but would lead to devastating damage to crops that are not genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba.

The companies claimed their new versions of dicamba would not volatize and drift as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do. But those assurances were proven false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage in recent years. More than one million acres of dicamba crop damage was reported last year in 18 states, the court noted.

In February, a unanimous jury awarded a Missouri peach farmer $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages to be paid by Bayer and BASF for dicamba damage to his property.

In a statement issued after the EPA announcement, BASF  said it supported the EPA’s decision to allow the continued use of existing stocks of BASF’s Engenia herbicide through July 31, but said “additional clarity and flexibility” was required.  The company said it had immediately suspended selling and shipping Engenia herbicide after last week’s ruling. 

The company said it  will continue to pursue re-registration of Engenia with the EPA and is assessing its options to pursue legal remedies to challenge the court order.

UPDATED -Court overturns EPA approval of Bayer dicamba herbicide; says regulator “understated the risks”

Print Email Share Tweet

(UPDATES with statement from BASF)

In a stunning rebuke of the Environmental Protection Agency, a federal court on Wednesday overturned the agency’s approval of popular dicamba-based herbicides made by chemical giants Bayer, BASF and Corteva Agrisciences. The ruling effectively makes it illegal for farmers to continue to use the product.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the EPA “substantially understated the risks” of the dicamba herbicides and “failed entirely to acknowledge other risks.”

“The EPA made multiple errors in granting the conditional registrations,” the court ruling states.

Monsanto and the EPA had asked the court, if it did agree with the plaintiffs, not to immediately overturn the approvals of the weed killing products. The court said simply: “We decline to do so.”

The lawsuit was brought by the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity, and Pesticide Action Network North America.

The plaintiffs accused the EPA of breaking the law in evaluating the impacts of a system designed by Monsanto, which was bought by Bayer in 2018, that has triggered “widespread” crop damage over the last few summers and continues to threaten farms across the country.

“Today’s decision is a massive win for farmers and the environment,” said George Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, lead counsel in the case. “It is good to be reminded that corporations like Monsanto and the Trump Administration cannot escape the rule of law, particularly at a time of crisis like this. Their day of reckoning has arrived.”

The court found that among other problems, the EPA “refused to estimate the amount of dicamba damage, characterizing such damage as ‘potential’ and ‘alleged,’ when record evidence showed that dicamba had caused substantial and undisputed damage.”

The court also found that the EPA failed to acknowledge that restrictions it placed on the use of the dicamba herbicides would not be followed,  and it determined that the EPA “entirely failed to acknowledge the substantial risk that the registrations would have anticompetitive economic effects in the soybean and cotton industries.”

Finally, the court said, the EPA entirely failed to acknowledge the risk that the new use of dicamba herbicides set up by Monsanto, BASF and Corteva would “tear the social fabric of farming communities.”

Farmers have been using dicamba herbicides for more than 50 years but traditionally avoided applying the herbicide during hot summer months, and rarely if ever over large swaths of land due to the well-known propensity of the chemical to drift far from intended target areas where it could damage crops, gardens, orchards, and shrubs.

Monsanto upended that restraint when it launched dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds a few years ago, encouraging farmers to spray new formulations of dicamba “over the top” of these genetically engineered crops during warm-weather growing months.

Monsanto’s move to create genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant crops came after its glyphosate-tolerant crops and widespread spraying of glyphosate created an epidemic of weed resistance across U.S. farmland.

Farmers, agricultural scientists and other experts warned Monsanto and the EPA that introducing a dicamba-tolerant system would not only create more herbicide resistance but would lead to devastating damage to crops that are not genetically engineered to tolerate dicamba.

Despite the warnings, Monsanto, along with BASF and Corteva AgriScience all gained approval from the EPA to market new formulations of dicamba herbicides for this widespread type of spraying. The companies claimed their new versions of dicamba would not volatize and drift as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do. But those assurances have proven false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage since the introduction of the new dicamba-tolerant crops and the new dicamba herbicides. More than one million acres of crop damage was reported last year in 18 states, the court noted.

As predicted, there have been thousands of dicamba damage complaints recorded in multiple states. In its ruling, the court noted that in 2018, out of 103 million acres of soybeans and cotton planted in the United States, about 56 million acres were planted with seeds with Monsanto’s dicamba-tolerance trait, up from 27 million acres the year before in 2017.

In February, a unanimous jury awarded a Missouri peach farmer $15 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages to be paid by Bayer and BASF for dicamba damage to his property.

Bayer issued a statement following the ruling saying it strongly disagreed with the court ruling and was assessing its options.

“The EPA’s informed science-based decision reaffirms that this tool is vital for growers and does not pose any unreasonable risks of off-target movement when used according to label directions,” the company said. “If the ruling stands, we will work quickly to minimize any impact on our customers this season.”

Corteva also said its dicamba herbicides were needed farmer tools and that it was assessing its options.

BASF called the court order “unprecedented” and said it “has the potential to be devastating to tens of thousands of farmers.”

Farmers could lose “significant revenue” if they are not able to kill weeds in their soybean and cotton fields with the dicamba herbicides, the company said.

“We will use all legal remedies available to challenge this Order,” BASF said.

An EPA spokesman said the agency was currently reviewing the court decision and “will move promptly to address the Court’s directive.”

The court acknowledged the decision could be costly for farmers who have already purchased and/or planted dicamba-tolerant seeds for this season and planned to use the dicamba herbicides on them because the ruling disallows that herbicide use.

“We acknowledge the difficulties these growers may have in finding effective and legal herbicides to protect their (dicamba-tolerant) crops…” the ruling states. “They have been placed in this situation through no fault of their own. However, the absence of substantial evidence to support the EPA’s decision compels us to vacate the registrations.”

Appeals court hears arguments over Monsanto’s first Roundup trial loss

Print Email Share Tweet

A California jury decision blaming a Monsanto herbicide for a school groundskeeper’s cancer was deeply flawed and incompatible with the law, a Monsanto attorney told a panel of appellate judges on Tuesday.

The company’s glyphosate-based herbicides – popularly known as Roundup – have the full backing of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and “regulators around the world,” attorney David Axelrad told judges with the California Court of Appeal First Appellate District.

Axelrad said Monsanto had no duty to warn anyone about an alleged cancer risk given the regulatory consensus that its weed killers are safe.

It is “fundamentally unfair to hold Monsanto liable and punish it for a product label that accurately reflects not only EPA determination but a worldwide consensus that glyphosate is not carcinogenic,” he argued in the hour-long hearing. The proceeding was held by telephone because of COVID-19 restrictions on courthouse access.

Associate Justice Gabriel Sanchez questioned the validity of that argument:  “You have animal studies… mechanism studies, you have control case studies,” he said, addressing Monsanto’s attorney. “There are a  number of, it seems, published peer reviewed studies… that suggest a statistically significant relationship between glyphosate and lymphoma. So I don’t know that I would agree with you that it has unanimous consensus. Certainly the regulatory agencies seem to be on one side. But there is a lot of other evidence on the other. ”

The appeal stems from the 2018 jury decision in San Francisco Superior Court that ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million to Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, including $250 million in punitive damages.

The trial judge in the Johnson case lowered the award to $78.5 million. But Monsanto appealed the verdict, asking the court to either reverse the trial decision and enter a judgment for Monsanto or reverse and remand the case for a new trial or at least sharply reduce the damages.  Johnson cross-appealed seeking reinstatement of the full jury award.

Johnson is one of tens of thousands of people from around the United States who have sued Monsanto alleging Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides made by the company cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company spent decades covering up the risks.

Johnson gained “preference” status because doctors said his life expectancy was short and that he would likely die within 18 months of the trial. Johnson has confounded the doctors and remains alive and undergoing regular treatments.

Monsanto’s loss to Johnson marked the first of three Roundup trial losses for the company, which was acquired by Germany’s Bayer AG in June 2018 just as the Johnson trial started.

The jury in the Johnson case specifically found – among other things – that Monsanto was negligent in failing to warn Johnson of the cancer risk of its herbicides. But Monsanto argues that the verdict was flawed because of exclusion of key evidence and what the company’s attorneys call the “distortion of reliable science.”

If the appeals court does not order a new trial, Monsanto asked that the judges at least 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.

Johnson’s trial attorneys had argued that he should get $1 million a year for pain and suffering over the 33 additional years that he would likely live if he had not gotten cancer.

But Monsanto’s attorneys have said Johnson should get only $1 million a year for pain and suffering during his actual life expectancy or $1.5 million for an 18-month expected future span.

On Tuesday, Axelrad reiterated that point: “Sure a plaintiff can recover during his lifetime for the pain and suffering that might be occasioned by knowing that he has a shortened life expectancy,” he told the judicial panel. “But you cannot recover for pain and suffering that is unlikely to occur in years where you will no longer be living and that is what the plaintiff received in this case.”

Axelrad told the justices that the company had been falsely painted as engaging in misconduct but in fact had properly followed the science and the law. He said, for example, though Johnson’s attorney had accused Monsanto of ghost-writing scientific papers, company scientists had only made “editorial suggestions” for several papers published in the scientific literature.

“Whether or not Monsanto could have been more forthcoming in identifying its involvement in those studies the bottom line is that those studies produced no false or misleading information and there is no indication that any of the authors of those studies would have changed their opinion had Monsanto not provided editorial comment,” he said.

Axelrad said there was no malice and no basis for punitive damages to be leveled against Monsanto. The company’s defense of its glyphosate-based herbicides over the years has been “entirely reasonable and in good faith,” he said.

“There is absolutely no evidence that Monsanto distributed false, misleading or incomplete information, no evidence that its actions prevented the dissemination of information to regulatory agencies needed to review the scientific evidence, no evidence that its actions compromised the ultimate regulatory decision making and no evidence that Monsanto refused to conduct a test or study in order to conceal information about a risk of harm or prevent the discovery of new information about the science of glyphosate,” he said.

Johnson attorney Mike Miller said that Monsanto’s lawyers were attempting to get the appellate court to retry the facts of the case, which is not its role.

“Monsanto misunderstands the appellate function. It is not to reweigh the facts. The facts that were just argued by Monsanto’s counsel were rejected thoroughly by the jury and rejected by the trial judge…” Miller said.

The appellate court should uphold the damages the jury awarded, including the punitive damages,  because Monsanto’s conduct surrounding the science and safety of its glyphosate herbicides was “egregious,” Miller said.

The evidence presented at the Johnson trial showed Monsanto engaged in the ghostwriting of scientific papers while it failed to adequately test its formulated glyphosate herbicides for carcinogenicity risks. The company then initiated “unprecedented” attacks on the credibility of  international cancer scientists who classified glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen in 2015, he told the judicial panel.

“In punitive damages, as you assess the reprehensibility of Monsanto you must factor in the wealth of Monsanto. And the award must be enough to sting,” said Miller. “Under California law unless it changes the conduct it hasn’t fit the purpose of punitive damages.”

The appellate panel has 90 days to issue a ruling.

Dicamba: Farmers fear another season of crop damage; court ruling awaited

Print Email Share Tweet

With the turn of the calendar to June, farmers in the U.S. Midwest are wrapping up the planting of new soybean crops and tending to growing fields of young corn plants and vegetable plots. But many are also bracing to be hit by an invisible enemy that has wreaked havoc in farm country the last few summers – the chemical weed killer dicamba.

Jack Geiger, a certified organic farmer in Robinson, Kansas, describes the last few summer growing seasons as characterized by “chaos,” and said he partially lost certification for one field of organic crops due to contamination with dicamba sprayed from afar. Now he is pleading with neighbors who spray the weed killer on their fields to make sure the chemical stays off his property.

“There is dicamba everywhere,” Geiger said.

Geiger is only one of hundreds of farmers around the U.S. Midwest and several southern states who have reported crop damages and losses they claim were caused by drifting dicamba over the last few years.

Farmers have been using dicamba herbicides for more than 50 years but traditionally avoided applying the herbicide during hot summer months, and rarely if ever over large swaths of land due to the well-known propensity of the chemical to drift far from intended target areas.

That restraint was reversed after Monsanto launched dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds to encourage farmers to spray new formulations of dicamba “over the top” of these genetically engineered crops. Monsanto, which is now owned by Bayer AG, along with BASF and Corteva AgriScience all gained approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to market new formulations of dicamba herbicides for spraying over the tops of growing dicamba-tolerant crops. The companies claimed their new versions of dicamba would not volatize and drift as older versions of dicamba weed killing products were known to do.

But those assurances have proven false amid widespread complaints of dicamba drift damage since the introduction of the new dicamba-tolerant crops and the new dicamba herbicides.

A consortium of farmer and consumer groups sued the EPA over its backing of the over-the-top use of the dicamba herbicides and is now awaiting a ruling by the ninth circuit court of appeals in San Francisco regarding their demand that the court overturn the EPA’s approval of the three company’s herbicides. Oral arguments were held in April.

The consumer and environmental groups allege the EPA broke the law by failing to analyze the “significant socioeconomic and agronomic costs to farmers” leading to “catastrophic” levels of crop damage.

The groups say the EPA seems more interested in protecting the business interests of Monsanto and the other companies than in protecting farmers.

Lawyers for Monsanto, representing the company as a unit of Bayer, said the plaintiffs have no credible argument. The company’s new dicamba herbicide, called XtendiMax, “has assisted growers in addressing a significant nationwide weed resistance problem, and soybean and cotton yields have hit record highs nationwide during this litigation,” according to a brief filed by the company’s lawyers on May 29.

“Petitioners’ request for an order immediately halting all sales and uses of the pesticide invites legal error and potentially disastrous real-world impacts,” the company said.

As they await the federal court’s decision, farmers are hoping that new restrictions put in place by some states will protect them. The Illinois Department of Agriculture has advised applicators that they can’t spray after June 20, that they should not spray dicamba products if the temperature is over 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and that they should only apply dicamba when the wind is blowing away from “sensitive” areas. Minnesota, Indiana, North Dakota and South Dakota are among other states putting in place cut-off dates for spraying dicamba.

Steve Smith, director of agriculture at Red Gold Inc, the world’s largest canned tomato processor, said even with the state restrictions he is “extremely concerned” about the upcoming season. More acres of being planting with the dicamba-tolerant soybeans developed by Monsanto so it is likely there will be more dicamba being sprayed, he said.

“We’ve worked hard to keep the message out there of not to get close to us, but someone, sometime, is going to make a mistake that could seriously cost us our business,”  he said.

Smith said he is hopeful the court will overturn the EPA approval and “stop this insanity of a system.”

Separately from the potential dicamba damage to crops, new research was recently published showing that farmers exposed to high levels of dicamba appear to have elevated risks of liver and other types of cancer.  Researchers said the new data showed that an association previously seen in the data between dicamba and lung and colon cancers was “no longer apparent” with the updated data.

Fresh talk of a settlement between Bayer and Roundup cancer patients

Print Email Share Tweet

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:

Bayer shareholder meeting draws protests, pleas from cancer patients

Print Email Share Tweet

The Bayer AG annual shareholders’ meeting got underway Tuesday in Germany, drawing the attention of not only investors and analysts but also activists, lawyers and cancer patients who want to see Bayer make amends for alleged misdeeds by Monsanto, which Bayer bought two years ago.

The meeting was to be an in-person event in Bonn, Germany but due to fears about large gatherings that could spread the Covid-19 virus, Bayer instead is hosting a video webcast  of the meeting.

On Monday the company announced a “good start to 2020,” reporting higher sales and profits through all divisions driven in part by strong demand within its Consumer Health division related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The shareholders’ meeting comes as Bayer is facing legal claims in the United States brought by roughly 52,500 plaintiffs alleging that exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). They allege Monsanto was aware of the risks and should have warned consumers but instead sought to manipulate the scientific record and regulators.

Three trials have been held to date and Bayer lost all three as juries awarded more than $2 billion to four plaintiffs, though trial judges later reduced the awards. The trial losses angered investors and pushed share prices to the lowest levels in roughly seven years,  erasing more than 40 percent of Bayer’s market value at one point. Some investors called for Bayer CEO Werner Baumann to be ousted for championing the Monsanto acquisition, which closed in June of 2018 just as the first trial was getting underway.

Bayer and plaintiffs’ attorneys have been engaged in settlement talks for the last year and appeared close to a deal that would resolve a majority of the claims before the onset of Covid-19.

Virus-related government closures, including of U.S. courthouses, have eliminated the possibility of additional trials in the near future, and Bayer has seized on its fresh leverage to walk back some of its negotiated settlements, according to sources close to the talks.

Bayer said Monday it will “continue to consider a solution only if it is financially reasonable and puts in place a mechanism to resolve potential future claims efficiently. Against the background of a looming recession and looking at, in part, considerable liquidity challenges, this applies now more than ever.”

Despite the lack of an in-person meeting, several individuals and organizations are hoping to make their criticisms of the company known. One group representing beekeepers said it was running online ads redirecting people searching for Bayer AGM on Google to an online stream featuring beekeepers talking about the impacts of Bayer’s pesticides on bees.

Several people involved in the Roundup litigation also spoke out.

“It’s time for the Bayer board of directors to step up and do what is right,” said Thomas Bolger, a 68-year-old man from Texas who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2013 after using Roundup since 1982. Bolger recorded a video message to Bayer, detailing his ordeal with cancer.

Robyndee Laumbach, a 50-year-old Texas woman who said her work in cotton genetics exposed her repeatedly to Roundup, also made a video message for Bayer. “Cancer is bad, any which way you look at it. I’m completely damaged and scarred and I will be for the remainder of my life,” she said.

Both Laumbach and Bolger are among the people suing Monsanto.

Roundup litigation plaintiff Michelle Taranto also made a video message on behalf of her husband to share with Bayer. Rose said her husband will soon be entering his third round of treatments “that will hopefully save his life.” She asked Bayer to stop selling Roundup.

“Our lives have been diminished to endless hospital visits, countless painful treatments and expensive scary hospital stays,” Taranto said.

Maine Christmas tree farm operator Jim Hayes made a video message describing being diagnosed with Stage 4 NHL in 2016 after using Roundup on his farm for years. Hayes said he went through six rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant before being declared in remission. He now fears his cancer will return.

“I love my life. I love my family. I trusted the product. Clearly it is not safe for everyone to use,” Hayes said.

One Roundup litigation plaintiff who only wanted to be identified by his first name, Chuck, also made a video message for Bayer.

“I believe Bayer should be doing everything in their power to fix the problem that Monsanto and their product Roundup has caused thousands of individuals like myself who thought we were just using a harmless weed killer,” he said. “Although my cancer is incurable, Bayer can prevent future people from developing this horrible disease by taking this product Roundup off the shelf now. Bayer should also be accountable for everyone that now has to deal with this horrible disease every day.”