Six months after being asked by the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on whether the nation’s high court should review the Roundup cancer trial, Hardeman v. Monsanto, the U.S. Department of Justice is recommending that the lower court ruling should stand.
U.S. Solicitor General, Elizabeth B. Prelogar, the fourth-highest ranking official in the DOJ, stated in an opinion filed with the Supreme Court on May 10 that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA, does not shield Monsanto from defending personal injury claims, and as such the 2019 unanimous decision by California’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was correct in ruling that exposure to Roundup caused plaintiff Edwin Hardeman to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
In 2019, a jury originally awarded Hardeman $80 million in damages, $75 million of which was punitive. The jury found that Monsanto acted reprehensibly and tried to manipulate scientific data, sway the opinion of journalists and scientific writers, and failed to warn federal regulators and the public about the potential risks associated with long-term exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide.
Hardeman’s award was later reduced to $25 million. The California Supreme Court refused the request by Monsanto-owner, Bayer AG, to review the verdict and petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision in August 2021.
The solicitor general is the Department of Justice’s officer responsible for representing the federal government of the United States before the Supreme Court. Prelogar’s opinion is non-binding, meaning that the Supreme Court could still decide to review the case. However, the Supreme Court sides with the opinion of the Solicitor General in a vast majority of decisions.
Bayer was hoping that if the Supreme Court decided to hear the case, the majority conservative court would side with the company that federal pesticide labeling laws trump state cancer warning labels. Because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved Roundup, Bayer has argued that cancer warning labels at the state level are not in accordance with federal law and thus, all of the approximately 30,000 unresolved Roundup claims should be tossed.
Hardeman sued Monsanto in 2016. His case was the first federal Roundup trial, and his win and that of three other plaintiffs in two California trials—Dewayne Lee Johnson ($20.5 million) and Alva and Alberta Pilliod ($87 million) compelled Bayer to reach a $11 billion settlement with approximately 95,000 claimants.
Bayer, which was cleared of liability by juries in the two most recent Roundup bellwether trials (#4 & #5) has also petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Pilliod verdict.