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Judge May Overturn $289 Million Verdict In Monsanto Roundup Case

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) -- In a tentative ruling, a San Francisco judge announced Wednesday she was ready to order a new trial in a $289 million judgment against agribusiness giant Monsanto awarded to a cancer-stricken Bay Area groundskeeper.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos issued the ruling ahead of scheduled oral arguments. She will take the arguments into consideration before making the ruling final.

In her ruling, Bolanos said plaintiff DeWayne Johnson failed to produce "clear and convincing evidence of malice or oppression" by Monsanto. She wrote that he did not provide any evidence that Monsanto employees believed that exposure to the product caused his lymphoma. Johnson has reportedly been told he has about two years to live.

Dewayne "Lee" Johnson - Monsanto
Dewayne "Lee" Johnson speaks to 'CBS This Morning' after winning a $289 million verdict against Monsanto. (CBS)

"Given the state of medical and scientific knowledge there is no clear and convincing evidence that Monsanto acted with malice or oppression in manufacturing and selling its GBH (Roundup) products," the judge wrote. "Plaintiff (Johnson) failed to present any evidence that Monsanto acted despicably."

Monsanto had argued ahead of the hearing that Johnson failed to prove that Roundup or similar herbicides caused his lymphoma, and presented no evidence that Monsanto executives were malicious in marketing it.

Regulators around the world have concluded on "multiple occasions" that the active ingredient in Roundup — glyphosate — is not a human carcinogen, the attorneys said in court documents. They called the jury verdict "extraordinary" and said it requires "exceptional scrutiny."

Johnson's attorneys responded in court documents that the jury was well-educated and attentive. The evidence at trial was "more than sufficient to support an inference" that Johnson's cancer was caused by his exposure to Monsanto's herbicides, the attorneys said.

"Mr. Johnson's story is tragic and could have been prevented if Monsanto actually showed a modicum of care about human safety," they said.

Outside of court Wednesday, lawyers for Monsanto would not offer any comment.

Johnson's lawsuit is among hundreds alleging Roundup caused cancer, but it was the first one to go to trial.

He sprayed Roundup and a similar product, Ranger Pro, at his job as a pest control manager at a San Francisco Bay Area school district, according to his attorneys.

Johnson was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2014 at age 42. The jury in August found Monsanto responsible for Johnson's cancer and awarded him $39 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages.

Leading into Wednesday's hearing, the judge issued a tentative ruling on the punitive damages. As for liability, Monsanto argued Wednesday that the verdict should also be overturned because the jury awarded me Johnson's compensatory damages for years he wouldn't live.

Monsanto said the law only allows compensatory damages for years he would actually survive, which they note would only afford him $2 million for the two years he has left.


© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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