Monsanto wants to overturn an $87 million award to a couple who claimed the Roundup weedkiller produced by the Bayer AG subsidiary caused their cancer, telling the U.S. Supreme Court that federal law doesn’t require the company to include a cancer warning on its herbicide.
Monsanto asked the high court to review the $87 million verdict, which included $70 million in punitive damages, saying Alva and Alberta Pilliod’s state-law claims over the company’s omission of a cancer warning on Roundup’s label are preempted by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, which doesn’t require such labeling.
For decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly found that the active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, does not cause cancer in humans, according to Monsanto, meaning it would be false to include a cancer warning on Roundup, and also that the punitive damages award goes against the 2003 Supreme Court decision State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Campbell , which held the “absence of evidence of reprehensibility renders any [punitive damages] award suspect” and that a one-to-one punitive-compensatory ratio is appropriate when the defendant’s conduct is not particularly reprehensible and a plaintiff has already been awarded significant compensatory damages.
Jurors determined in 2019 that Roundup was more likely than not a contributing factor that caused the Pilliods to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma. They awarded the couple $2 billion in damages, which was later reduced to $87 million.
After the Court of Appeals declined to overturn the verdict in August, Monsanto turned to the California Supreme Court, but the state high court in November declined to review the case.
Now, Monsanto is asking the nation’s highest court to weigh in, arguing that it’s illegal for a pesticide company to sell its products with labeling that is substantially different from the EPA-approved labeling. In this case, the EPA has repeatedly determined that Monsanto needn’t include a cancer warning on Roundup’s label.
A spokesperson for Bayer noted that this is the first Roundup case to challenge the constitutionality of a punitive damages award in the Supreme Court, and also noted that the company has prevailed in the last two Roundup cases to go to trial — one in October and one in December — and that it has reached agreements to resolve many other claims.
Pedram Esfandiary of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman PC, an attorney for the Pilliods, said that Monsanto’s request is its “latest meritless bid” to overturn the verdict after the company strove to obscure the risk of cancer associated with Roundup that led to his clients to developed cancer.