The U.S. Supreme Court decided on June 27 that it would not review a 2021 decision by a California district court that awarded a married couple $87 million for their claims that Roundup weedkiller caused them to develop cancer, marking the second time in a week that the nation’s highest court denied Bayer AG’s petition to review a lower court’s Roundup verdict, leaving the company facing approximately 30,000 similar lawsuits.
According to Law360.com, a Bayer spokesperson said, "Bayer respectfully disagrees with the Supreme Court's decision, but the company is not surprised given the court's declination in Hardeman just one week ago.”
The spokesperson added, “There are likely to be future cases, including Roundup cases, that present the U.S. Supreme Court with preemption questions like Pilliod and Hardeman and could also create a circuit split and potentially change the legal environment."
On June 21, the Supreme Court turned away Bayer’s appeal of Hardeman vs. Monsanto, a decision made by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld a lower court’s jury verdict for Edwin Hardeman over his claims that he developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using the glyphosate-based herbicide for several years. Hardeman’s damage award was reduced to $25 million by the Ninth.
By refusing to review both verdicts, the Supreme Court’s decision has implied that federal labeling laws under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), do not preempt state-law claims.
This means that despite the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not require Roundup weedkiller to carry a warning label about the potential health risk associated with glyphosate, plaintiffs can still pursue failure-to-warn claims at the state level. The EPA has recently been tasked with reassessing the risk of glyphosate for humans and animals by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Alva and Alberta Pilliod of Livermore, CA, began using Roundup in the early 1980s without using protective gloves or long clothing, believing the herbicide was safe to use since it did not include any warning labels.
Alva Pilliod was diagnosed in 2011 with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and the cancer metastasized to his bones. Four years later, his wife, Alberta was diagnosed with the same condition, with the cancer having developed in her brain. The Pilliods sued Monsanto in 2017 for design defect and failure-to-warn claims under strict liability and negligence.
The following year, Bayer AG completed its acquisition of Monsanto for $63 billion. The deal was completed roughly one month before the first consumer Roundup trial was held. In that trial and the subsequent two Roundup consumer trials, juries found that the herbicide was at least partly responsible for each of the three plaintiff’s cancers, and awarded each one tens of millions in damages.
Juries in the last four Roundup consumer trials have returned verdicts in favor of Bayer, but the recent refusal by the U.S. Supreme Court to review the first three decisions means that Bayer still faces tens of thousands of lawsuits that were not resolved with its $11 billion settlement in 2020.