by Carey Gillam
January 7, 2019 – The new year is off to a strong start for Monsanto as the Bayer unit heads into its second trial over allegations that its Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer. In Jan. 3 ruling, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria rejected arguments by attorneys representing cancer victims and sided with Monsanto in deciding to block jurors from hearing a large portion of evidence that plaintiffs say shows efforts by Monsanto to manipulate and influence regulators in a first phase of the trial. In deciding to bifurcate the trial, Chhabria said that jurors will only hear such evidence if they first agree that Monsanto’s weed killer did significantly contribute to causing the plaintiff’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
“A significant portion of the plaintiffs’ case involves attacks on Monsanto for attempting to influence regulatory agencies and manipulate public opinion regarding glyphosate. These issues are relevant to punitive damages and some liability questions. But when it comes to whether glyphosate caused a plaintiff’s NHL, these issues are mostly a distraction, and a significant one at that,” the judge’s order states.
He did provide a caveat, writing “if the plaintiffs have evidence that Monsanto manipulated the outcome of scientific studies, as opposed to agency decisions or public opinion regarding those studies, that evidence may well be admissible at the causation phase.”
Jury selection is set to begin Feb. 20 with the trial set to get underway on Feb. 25 in San Francisco. The case is Edward Hardeman v. Monsanto.
Meanwhile, plaintiff Lee Johnson, who was the first cancer victim to take Monsanto to trial, winning a unanimous jury verdict against the company in August, has also won his request to the 1st District Court of Appeals for speedy handling of Monsanto’s appeal of that jury award. Monsanto opposed Johnson’s request for “calendar preference,” but the court granted the request on Dec. 27, giving Monsanto 60 days to file its opening brief.
December 20, 2018 – U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said on Thursday that he would not rule until January on the disputed issue of bifurcation of the first federal trial, which is set to get underway in February. Attorneys for plaintiffs and for Monsanto were ordered to file all of their experts’ reports by Friday, December 21 to help Chhabria in his decision.
December 18, 2018 –Monsanto/Bayer lawyers responded Friday to de-designation requests concerning several hundred internal Monsanto records, seeking to keep most of them sealed in opposition to requests from plaintiffs’ attorneys. Company lawyers did agree to the release of some internal documents, which could be made public this week.
In the meantime both sides are awaiting a ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria on a motion made by Monsanto attorneys to reverse bifurcate the first federal court trial in the mass Roundup cancer litigation. That trial is set to begin Feb. 25 and is considered a bellwether that will set the stage for how and if other cases proceed and/or are resolved.
Monsanto would like the federal court trials to be conducted in two phases—a first phase focused on medical causation – did the company’s herbicides cause the specific plaintiff’s cancer – and a second phase to address liability only if plaintiffs prevail in the first phase.
The issues of causation and compensatory damages are “separate and distinct from Monsanto’s alleged negligence and company conduct and would involve testimony from different witnesses,” the company argued.” Bifurcation would avoid “undue delay in resolving this case…”
Plaintiffs’ attorneys object to the bifurcation saying the idea is “unheard of” in modern multi district litigation (MDL), which is what Chhabria is overseeing. More than 600 lawsuits are pending in his court alleging that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused plaintiffs’ cancers, and Monsanto failed to warn consumers of the dangers of its products.
“It is simply never done, and for good reason,” plaintiffs’ attorneys argued in a Dec. 13 court filing. “The purpose of a bellwether trial is to allow each side to test their theories and evidence against a real-world jury and, hopefully, learn important information about the strengths and weaknesses of the case to inform collective resolution. Imposing a one-sided procedural hurdle—one that would be a de facto outlier for the 10,000 cases proceeding around the country—does not accomplish that goal. It renders any verdict in this MDL, no matter which side prevails, unhelpful.”
Chhabria has indicated that he will rule on the matter before Christmas. The next hearing in the case is set for Jan. 4.
December 14, 2018 – Plaintiff Seeks Expedited Handling of Monsanto’s Appeal as His Health Deteriorates
Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, the first plaintiff to take Monsanto to trial alleging the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides cause cancer, is scheduled for surgery today to remove a new cancerous growth on one of his arms.
Johnson’s health has been deteriorating since the trial’s conclusion in August and an interruption in treatment due to a temporary lapse in insurance coverage. He has not received any funds from the litigation due to the appeals Monsanto instigated after Johnson court victory. Monsanto is appealing the verdict of $78 million, which was reduced by the trial judge from the jury’s award of $289 million.
Johnson filed notice with the court in October that he would accept the reduced award. But because Monsanto has appealed, Johnson’s attorneys have also filed an appeal, seeking to reinstate the jury award.
The California State Court of Appeals, 1st Appellate District, case number is A155940.
Johnson’s attorneys are seeking expedited handling of the appeal and say they hope to have briefings completed by April.
“There is… a strong likelihood that Mr. Johnson is going to die in 2019,” the plaintiff’s motion states.
Johnson, who plans to restart immunotherapy after his surgery, is not necessarily in agreement.
“I hate to think about dying,” he said in an interview published in Time Magazine. Even when I feel like I’m dying, I just make myself move past it. I feel like you can’t give in to it, the diagnosis, the disease, because then you really are dead. I don’t mess around with the death cloud, the dark thoughts, the fears. I’m planning for a good life.”
December 13, 2018 – More Monsanto Shoes (Documents) Set to Drop
The law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman, which partnered with The Miller Firm in notching the historic victory for plaintiff Dewayne Lee Johnson over Monsanto in August, is seeking the de-designation of several hundred pages of internal Monsanto records that were obtained through discovery but have so far been kept sealed.
Baum Hedlund last year released hundreds of other internal Monsanto records that include emails, memos, text messages and other communications that were influential in the unanimous jury verdict finding Monsanto acted with “malice” by not warning customers of scientific concerns about its glyphosate-based herbicides. Jury sources say that those internal records were very influential in their $250 million punitive damage award against Monsanto, which the judge in the case reduced to $39 million for a total award of $78 million.
Attorneys for plaintiffs in two upcoming trials say that Monsanto records that have not been seen publicly before will be part of new evidence they plan to introduce at the trials.
Today is also the deadline for plaintiffs attorneys to respond to Monsanto’smotion to “reverse bifurcate” the Feb. 25 trial set for U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California. (see Dec. 11 entry below for more details)
December 12, 2018 – New Judge Appointed in Pilliod Case
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ioana Petrou, who has spent more than a year engaged in the Roundup cancer litigation and sat through many days of the presentation of scientific evidence by plaintiffs and defense experts in a federal court hearing in March 2017, is off the case. California Gov. Jerry Brown announced on November 21st that Petrou has been appointed associate justice, Division Three of the First District Court of Appeal.
Judge Winifred Smith has been named to replace Petrou to oversee the case of Pilliod V. Monsanto, which is scheduled to go to trial March 8 in Oakland, California. Smith was appointed by Governor Gray Davis in November 2000, and prior to her appointment, served as deputy assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice in San Francisco.
The Pilliod case will be the third to go to trial in the sweeping Roundup mass tort litigation. Alva Pilliod and his wife Alberta Pilliod, both in their 70s and married for 48 years, allege that their cancers – forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma – are due to their long exposure to Roundup. Their advanced ages and cancer diagnoses warrant a speedy trial, according to court filings by their attorneys. Monsanto opposed their request for the expedited trial date but Petrou found the couple’s illnesses and ages warranted preference. Alberta has brain cancer while Alva suffers from a cancer that has invaded his pelvis and spine. Alva was diagnosed in 2011 while Alberta was diagnosed in 2015. They used Roundup from roughly the mid -1970s until only a few years ago.
The Pilliod suit echoes others in claiming that “Monsanto led a prolonged campaign of misinformation to convince government agencies, farmers and the general public that Roundup was safe.”
December 11, 2018 – Attorneys Scramble Ahead of Next Trial
With the next trial in the mass Roundup cancer litigation set for Feb. 25 in San Francisco, attorneys for Monsanto and plaintiffs are scrambling to take more than two dozen depositions in the waning weeks of December and into January even as they debate how the trial should be organized.
Monsanto attorneys on Dec. 10 filed a motion to “reverse bifurcate” the next trial Edward Hardeman V. Monsanto (3:16-cv-00525). Monsanto wants the jury only to hear evidence focused on specific medical causation first – did its herbicide cause the plaintiff’s cancer – with a second phase that would address Monsanto’s liability and damages only necessary if the jury found in plaintiff’s favor in the first phase. See Monsanto’s argument here. Judge Chhabria granted a request from plaintiff’s attorneys to be allowed until Thursday to file their response.
Edward Hardeman and his wife spent many years living on a 56-acre, former exotic animal refuge in Sonoma County, California where Hardeman routinely used Roundup products to treat overgrown grasses and weeds since the 1980s. He was diagnosed with B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma in February 2015, just a month before the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared glyphosate to be a probable human carcinogen.
Hardeman’s case was selected as the first to be tried in federal court in San Francisco (Northern District of California) in front of Judge Vince Chhabria. Attorney Aimee Wagstaff of Denver, Colorado, is lead plaintiff’s counsel on the case. Attorney Brent Wisner of the Baum Hedlund law firm in Los Angeles, and the lawyer credited with leading the victory in Dewayne Lee Johnson’s historic August victory over Monsanto, had been expected to help try the case but now has another case scheduled to begin in March. That case is Pilliod, et al V. Monsanto in Alameda County Superior Court. See related documents on the Monsanto Papers main page.
Monsanto’s new owner Bayer AG is not content to rely on Monsanto’s trial team that lost the Johnson case and is bringing in its own legal defense team. The Bayer team, which helped the German company win litigation over the Xarelto blood thinner, now includes Pamela Yates and Andrew Solow of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer and Brian Stekloff of Wilkinson Walsh Eskovitz.
Hearings on specific causation issues are set in the Hardeman case for Feb. 4, 6, 11, and 13 with jury selection scheduled for Feb. 20. Opening arguments would then begin Feb. 25, according to the current schedule.
December 6, 2018 – Upcoming Monsanto Trial Dates
2/25/2019 – Federal Court – Hardeman
3/18/2019 – CA JCCP – Pilliod (2 plaintiffs)
4/1/2019 – St. Louis City Court – Hall
4/22/2019 – St. Louis County Court – Gordon
5/25/2019 – Federal Court – Stevick or Gebeyehou
9/9/2019 – St. Louis County Court – 4 plaintiffs
1/21/2020 – St. Louis City Court – 10 plaintiffs
3/23/2020 – St. Louis City Court
November 21, 2018 – Lee Johnson interview
Dewayne “Lee” Johnson was the first person to take Monsanto to court alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused him to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company covered up the risks. In August 2018, a jury in San Francisco unanimously found that Monsanto had failed to warn about the carcinogenic dangers of Roundup herbicide and related products, and they awarded Johnson $289 million. A judge later reduced that amount to $78 million. Carey Gillam spoke with Johnson about the aftermath of his case in this interview for TIME magazine: I Won a Historic Lawsuit But May Not Get to Keep the Money