Oct. 22, 2018 – San Francisco, California – – A California state court judge ruled today to uphold a jury’s verdict against Monsanto stemming from the Roundup lawsuit to proceed to trial.
In August, a San Francisco jury returned a verdict in favor of Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a former groundskeeper who sued Monsanto Company alleging exposure to the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused him to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The verdict ordered Monsanto to pay $39.2 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages for failing to warn consumers that exposure to Roundup weed killer causes cancer.
Monsanto filed motions to overturn the verdict or grant a new trial, arguing that evidence presented at trial was insufficient. After reviewing arguments from both sides, Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos largely sided with Johnson, rejecting Monsanto’s motion to overturn the verdict.
However, Judge Bolanos did rule to reduce Johnson’s punitive damage against Monsanto from $250 million to $39.2 million, bringing the total amount of damages to Mr. Johnson $78.4 million. He now has until early December to decide whether or not to accept the reduced punitive damages. If he does not accept, Judge Bolanos said that she would order a new trial.
Mr. Johnson’s attorneys at Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman and the Miller firm issued the following statement following today’s ruling:
“Although we believe a reduction in punitive damages was unwarranted and we are weighing the options, we are pleased the Court did not disturb the verdict. The evidence presented to this jury was, quite frankly, overwhelming. And, as we saw in recent days, this jury was intelligent, diligent, and followed the letter of the law. We are happy the jury’s voice was acknowledged by the Court, even if slightly muted. We are still reviewing whether we will accept the proposed remittitur or retry the punitive damages. That said, today is a triumph for our legal system. We care deeply for Lee and his family, and we are excited to share this important win with them and all those who supported this case.”
Jurors Wrote Letters to Judge Asking to Uphold Verdict Against Monsanto
Earlier this month, Judge Bolanos issued a tentative ruling in which she indicated she was considering granting Monsanto a new trial. In response, she received letters from several members of the jury urging her to uphold the verdict.
Jurors in Johnson v. Monsanto Company spent weeks listening to highly-technical evidence presented by both sides before coming to a unanimous decision. In their motion for a new trial, Monsanto argued that Mr. Johnson’s co-lead trial attorney, R. Brent Wisner, prejudiced the jury by making inflammatory remarks about the company during his opening and closing statements.
Juror Gary Kitahata disagreed with Monsanto’s assessment. “What we did was not inflamed by passion or prejudice,” he said in an interview. Regarding Mr. Wisner’s comments referenced in Monsanto’s motion, Kitahata said, “[t]hey were just not a factor…We were told not to consider it, so we didn’t consider it.”
The evidence led the jury to reach its unanimous verdict, according to Mr. Kitahata, who said he was particularly moved by internal Monsanto emails suggesting the company stifled research critical to glyphosate and promoted its own ghostwritten research that concluded glyphosate was safe. “They were protecting a product that was very important to the corporation’s bottom line,” he told the Guardian.
Mr. Kitahata is one of the jurors who wrote to Judge Bolanos. “You may not have been convinced by the evidence but we were,” he wrote. “I urge you to respect and honor our verdict and the six weeks of our lives that we dedicated to this trial.”
Neil Young and Darryl Hannah Pen Op-Ed Against Monsanto
The jurors were not the only people concerned about the possibility of an overturned verdict. Grammy-winning songwriter Neil Young and actress Daryl Hannah, both of whom attended the trial, wrote an opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle discussing the importance of upholding the jury verdict.
“We were among the many who applauded the verdict as a triumph for democracy,” wrote Young and Hannah, who added that the jury would be “shocked” to know that their weeks of careful attention and days of deliberation could be thrown out by a judge that disagrees with them.
“These hard-working Americans, gave up their jobs, businesses and families for two months to perform their civic duty as jurors. If a judge intervenes to alter their verdict, then what, after all, is the point of having jurors?”
The opinion piece continues:
“The task of disrupting a 50,000-year-old agricultural industry — transferring it from labor intensive and organic to chemical intensive — has required Monsanto to subvert democracy, and the company has a reputation for somehow manipulating public officials, regulators and courts — and an uncanny record of winning lawsuits. All of us should be concerned. At this time in history when our democratic institutions are under assault by corporate power, such an action will send a signal to Americans that their service on a jury is meaningless and that corporations like Monsanto are above the law.”