California [Again] Confronts the High Cost of Litigation Uncertainty

The first appellate shoe has dropped in the litigation involving the herbicide Roundup, Johnson v. Monsanto Co., decided July 20, 2020, by California’s 1st District Court of Appeal, Division One. We discussed the verdict and the trial court’s post-trial rulings here, and we now follow through with an update.

Initially, the price tag for allowing questionable science into the courtroom, as measured by this verdict, has been reduced. The court of appeal lowered the compensatory damages award from $39 million to about $10.25 million, concluding the jury had improperly awarded noneconomic damages that plaintiff would likely never suffer. Because plaintiff’s counsel had argued to the jury that plaintiff’s Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma had reduced his future life expectancy to two years, the jury could not award pain and suffering damages beyond that two-year span. And, agreeing with the trial court that constitutional limits required a 1:1 ratio between compensatory and punitive damages, the court slashed the $78 million punitive award to about $10.5 million.

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Ninth Circuit Confirms That Winning Early Summary Judgment May Be the Ultimate Preemptive Tactic for Beating Class Certification

The Ninth Circuit has confirmed that a lack of summary judgment evidence linking a product to concrete injury may properly halt a would-be class action in its tracks if a defendant preemptively moves for summary judgment before plaintiffs have the chance to move for class certification.

As we explored in an earlier post, the plaintiffs in Browning et al. v. Unilever United States Inc. represented a would-be class alleging that defendant Unilever failed to disclose that its St. Ives facial scrubs caused “micro-tears” of the skin. In early 2019, the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted summary judgment in favor of Unilever. The court held that the plaintiffs failed to establish the alleged micro-tears constituted a safety hazard, and found that causation was lacking because the plaintiffs presented no evidence that St. Ives — and not some “other products or lifestyle” choices — caused the complained-of skin conditions.

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