Hardeman v. Monsanto: Is the judge biased?

  February 28, 2019

The 2nd American lawsuit of a Roundup user with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has just begun (Monday 25/2) in the San Francisco Federal Court. Six months after a California jury ruled that Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicides caused a gardener’s cancer, another California jury is about to hear similar arguments.

Mr. Edwin Hardeman, 70, is a landscaper who has been using Roundup products since 1986 on his 56 acres property in Sonoma County, California. He was diagnosed with lymphoma in February 2015, one month before IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) announced that glyphosate was probably carcinogenic to humans. Making the link between his illness and his use of Roundup, he filed a complaint in February 2016 against Monsanto and John Does 1-50.

This lawsuit has been consolidated with hundreds of other complaints in the Roundup Products Liability Litigation 3:16-md-02741-VC, under the leadership of Judge Vince Chhabria. The Hardeman case is the first one and is considered a bellwether case in this multi-district litigation… And there are concerns about how the federal judge is proceeding with this trial.

Already in January, Judge Chhabria had rejected the arguments of the plaintiff’s counsel and sided with Monsanto in deciding to prevent jurors from hearing, in a first phase of the trial, many of the elements that the plaintiffs claimed show Monsanto’s efforts to manipulate and influence regulatory bodies. In deciding to “bifurcate” the trial, Mr. Chhabria said that jurors will only hear those elements in a second phase and only if they are first convinced that Monsanto’s herbicide has significantly contributed to causing the plaintiff’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL).

From the outset of the trial and the opening statements of Ms. Aimee Wagstaff, Mr. Hardeman’s attorney, Judge Chhabria seemed to have shown considerable hostility towards Ms. Wagstaff and very little empathy for the plaintiff. He considered that the lawyer had deliberately chosen to introduce in her preliminary speech many elements that should not have been presented to the juror in the first phase of the trial, interrupting her on numerous occasions and deciding to impose a $500 fine, which he could decide to extend to the entire team of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

The court then heard from two witnesses for the plaintiff: Dr. Beate Ritz, a physician and epidemiology researcher at UCLA, and, by videoconference, Dr. Chris Portier, an internationally recognized expert in the design, analysis and interpretation of environmental health data. His research interests include cancer biology, risk assessment, immunology, etc., and as such he was involved in the IARC analysis.

Hearings resume on Friday, March 1.