Northern California Record

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Federal judge appoints prominent mediator for Roundup cases; sets next trial date


By Rich Peters | May 25, 2019


SAN FRANCISCO – This week a federal judge overseeing nation-wide litigation against Monsanto’s product Roundup appointed a prominent mediator for court-mandated settlements and set guidelines as well as future trial dates for the more than 1,300 pending multidistrict litigation (MDL) cases claiming that the herbicide causes cancer.

Judge Vince Chhabria of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California appointed high-profile attorney Kenneth Feinberg on May 22 to mediate between Bayer AG, who purchased Monsanto last year, and those who have filed lawsuits.

Feinberg is known for having mediated high-profile, high-stakes lawsuits that have garnered both national and world wide attention such as the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Attorneys of the parties will meet with Feinberg in the upcoming weeks to discuss possible settlements.

Chhabria proposed the idea of sending the 1,200 pending MDL cases set to take place in San Francisco back to their home districts for trial, beginning with the 16 cases that have been filed in the state of California, subsequently moving the rest.

Monsanto attorney Brian L. Stekloff of Wilkinson Walsh Eskovitz argued against taking the chance of awaiting the verdicts of anymore California cases before moving others out of state, saying that it would provide them with no new “data points” given Monsanto’s three straight losses in the Golden State, further arguing that additional defeats could set the company back in terms of court-ordered settlements.

Stekloff also noted that his team hoped to move cases to a state where “glyphosate was used heavily in agriculture,” Courthouse News Service reported.

“California is a pretty diverse state,” the judge responded, according to Courthouse News Service. “It’s not like the Bay Area.”

Chhabria eventually set up a first wave of 16 California trials and five cases under a state law of Monsanto's choice. He asked both parties to each pick another state law for the second wave of trials. The judge also set a February 2020 trial date for Stevick v. Monsanto, the second bellwether case at the federal level, after recently postponing it from this month.

The plaintiffs' attorneys expressed their desire to pursue the trial sooner but the judge stressed the importance of setting up the other California trials first.

The next trial at the state level, Gordon v. Monsanto, is set for Monday, Aug. 19 in St. Louis County Circuit Court, located near Monsanto’s longtime world headquarters until Bayer acquired the company. The case was filed in July 2017 on behalf of nearly 80 plaintiffs. Gordon is the first of that group to go to trial as well as the first outside of the state of California.

Just last week Monsanto was blasted by a $2 billion verdict in the case of Northern California husband and wife Alva and Alberta Pilliod, marking the third straight victory for plaintiffs who claim the pesticide caused their cancer. Northern California janitor Dewayne Johnson was the first to win a case last year and was awarded $78.5 million in damages.

Earlier this year, Chhabria presided over the case of Edwin Hardeman – a bellwether trial and the first of its kind at the federal level. The Bay Area resident was awarded $80.5 million in damages.

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