SCOTUS Denies Monsanto Petition Regarding Roundup Litigation

A petition filed by the Monsanto Company, the manufacturer of the herbicide Roundup, was denied by the Supreme Court on Monday. The main petition for a writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeal in California was filed on March 17.

The respondents in the petition, Alberta and Alva Pilliod, were awarded more than $17 million in compensatory damages and almost $70 million in punitive damages when a California jury determined that the petitioner’s omission of a cancer warning on their Roundup product was in violation of California law.

The Monsanto Company asserts that their omission of a warning label on the product was the result of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommendations. Specifically, the petition asserts that the “EPA has authorized Roundup for sale, repeatedly approved Roundup’s labeling without a cancer warning, and informed pesticide registrants that including a cancer warning on the labeling of a glyphosate-based pesticide would render it “misbranded” in violation of federal law.”

Additionally, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) inhibits any state from imposing requirements for labeling that differ from those that are required under FIFRA. The EPA previously found that both the product Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate did not cause cancer in humans under FIFRA.

The petition sought to determine whether FIFRA preempts a state-law failure-to-warn claim, as FIFRA specifies that a warning cannot be added to labeling absent EPA approval. In the case of Monsanto’s Roundup, the EPA had already determined that a warning on the label would not be appropriate. The petition also seeks to conclude whether the $70 million award of punitive damages is in violation of the 14th amendment’s due process clause, since Monsanto acted in accordance with the scientific and regulatory consensus from the EPA when deciding to omit a warning from the Roundup labeling.

Both the Washington Legal Foundation and Allied Educational Foundation reiterated the Monsanto Company’s argument in a brief amici curiae.

Respondents countered the petition by filing a brief of opposition, which argued that FIFRA only preempts state-law labeling requirements that are broader than the statute’s misbranding standard, and that state-law claims that require manufacturers to design reasonably safe products are not preempted as they do not impose labeling requirements.

 The Monsanto Company was represented in the litigation by Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP.