It’s been a busy spring for legal developments in pesticides and insecticides. Our last article summarized recent activity surrounding dicamba products. In today’s post we cover legal activity on glyphosate and chlorpyrifos.
Roundup award. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dealt another loss to Monsanto (now Bayer) on May 14, 2021, when the court upheld a $25.3 million award against the company in Hardeman v. Monsanto. The lower court’s decision awarded damages for personal injuries to plaintiff Edward Hardeman due to Monsanto’s knowledge and failure to warn him of the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma from Roundup exposure. Monsanto argued unsuccessfully that the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) preempted the plaintiff’s claim that California’s Proposition 65 law required Monsanto to include a warning about Roundup’s carcinogenic risks on its label. That requirement, according to Monsanto, conflicted with FIFRA because the EPA had determined via a letter that a cancer warning would be considered “false and misleading” under FIFRA. The Ninth Circuit disagreed that the EPA letter preempted the California requirements.
The Court of Appeals also held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the plaintiff’s expert testimony. Monsanto had challenged testimony from a pathologist whom it alleged was not qualified to speak as an expert. But the court agreed that the witness testimony met the standard that expert opinions be “reliably based” on epidemiological evidence.
Monsanto also challenged the damages themselves. The award in Hardeman included $20 million in punitive damages that the district court reduced from $75 million originally awarded by the jury. While $75 million seemed “grossly excessive,” the appellate court reasoned, $20 million did not, especially considering Monsanto’s reprehensibility, because evidence of the carcinogenic risk of glyphosate was knowable by Monsanto.
Roundup settlement. In a second Roundup case, a California district court last week rejected a motion to approve a $2 billion settlement by Monsanto (now Bayer) to a proposed class of users exposed to Roundup or diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma who have not yet filed lawsuits. The offer by Bayer in Ramirez, et al. v. Monsanto Co. included legal services, compensation, research and assistance with non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis and treatment, and changes on the Roundup label advising users of a link to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but would require class members to waive their right to sue for punitive damages if they contract non-Hodgkin lymphoma and stipulate to the opinion of a seven-member science panel about whether Roundup causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The judge determined that the settlement would accomplish a lot for Bayer by reducing its litigation and settlement exposure, but it would greatly diminish the future settlement value of claims and “would accomplish far less for the Roundup users who have not been diagnosed with NHL (non-Hodgkin lymphoma)—and not nearly as much as the attorneys pushing this deal contend.” The court also determined that the benefits of the medical assistance and compensation components of the settlement, to last for four years, were greatly exaggerated and vastly overstated. The proposed stipulation to a science panel also received the court’s criticism. “The reason Monsanto wants a science panel so badly is that the company has lost the “battle of the experts” in three trials,” the court stated. Concluding that “mere tweaks cannot salvage the agreement,” the court denied the motion for preliminary approval and advised that a new motion would be required if the parties could reach a settlement that reasonably protects the interest of Roundup users not yet diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Bayer responded to the court’s rejection immediately with a “five-point plan to effectively address potential future Roundup claims.” The plan includes a new website with scientific studies relevant to Roundup safety; engaging partners to discuss the future of glyphosate-based producers in the U.S. lawn and garden market; alternative solutions for addressing Roundup claims including the possible use of an independent scientific advisory panel; reassessment of ongoing efforts to settle existing claims; and continuing current cases on appeal.
Chlorpyrifos. The insecticide chlorpyrifos also had its share of legal attention this spring. Chlorpyrifos was first registered back in 1965 by Dow Chemical but its use has dropped somewhat since then. Its largest producer now is Corteva, who announced in 2020 that it would end production of its Lorsban chlorpyrifos product in 2021. That’s good timing according to the strongly worded decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in late April that the EPA must either revoke or modify all food residue tolerances for chlorpyrifos within sixty days.
The plaintiffs in the case of League of United Latin American Citizens v. Regan originally requested a review of the tolerances in 2007 based on the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), which addresses pesticide residues in or on a food. FFDCA requires EPA to establish or continue a tolerance level for food pesticide residues only if the tolerance is safe and must modify or rescind a tolerance level that is not safe. Plaintiffs claimed the tolerances for chlorpyrifos are not safe based upon evidence of neurotoxic effects of the pesticide on children. They asked the EPA to modify or rescind the tolerances. The EPA denied the request, although that decision came ten years later in 2017 after the agency repeatedly refused to make a decision on the safety of the product. The Obama Administration had announced that it would ban chlorpyrifos, but the Trump Administration reversed that decision in 2017.
Plaintiffs objected to the EPA’s decision not to change or revoke chlorpyrifos tolerance, arguing that the agency should have first made a scientific finding on the safety of the product. The EPA again rejected the argument, which led to the Ninth Circuit’s recent review. The Ninth Circuit concluded that the EPA had wrongfully denied the petition, as it contained sufficient evidence indicating that a review of the chlorpyrifos tolerance levels was necessary. The EPA’s denial of the petition for review was “arbitrary and capricious,” according to the court. “The EPA has sought to evade, through one delaying tactic after another, its plain statutory duties,” the court stated.
More to come. While the spring held many legal developments in pesticide law, the rest of the year will see more decisions. The Roundup litigation is far from over, and the same can be said for dicamba. How will the EPA under the new administration handle pesticide review and registration, and the court's order to address chlorpyrifos tolerances? Watch here for these and other legal issues with pesticides that will outlive the spring.
Pesticide drift is a risk many farmers face. Pesticides in the wrong place can injure unintended targets such as crops, trees and other vegetation, animals, and people, and can raise questions of liability for the misapplication. What should you do if you suspect pesticide drift? Whether you’re on the sending or the receiving side of it, here’s a summary of what could happen after an incident of pesticide drift.
Documentation. Many pieces of information are necessary to analyzing whether and why pesticide drift occurred and can be helpful to determining liability. Documentation of an incident should include:
- Date, time, and location of the potential drift occurrence.
- Weather conditions at the time of the occurrence, including temperature, wind speed, and wind direction.
- Photographs of the site at the time of the possible drift.
- Date, time, and description of any damages that become noticeable after the pesticide application. Note that damage symptoms may not be visible for at least 7 days.
- Photographs of damages. A series of photographs taken over several weeks can help document damages as they develop, and a phone or time stamp will ascertain the date and time of each photograph.
- Identify of the applicator.
- Notes of conversations between neighbors, investigators, the applicator, and others.
Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) investigation. A person who believes drift occurred can file a pesticide complaint with the Pesticide Regulation Section of ODA, which has the authority to investigate an alleged pesticide drift situation and assess potential risks to human health, damages to crops and vegetation, and whether the applicator violated Ohio pesticide laws.
If someone files a pesticide complaint, ODA’s investigation could include reviewing maps of the properties, visiting the site, talking with the person who filed the complaint, taking photographs, and collecting samples. The agency might also seek a written statement from the complaining party and others aware of the occurrence. The inspector next meets with the pesticide applicator to gather information about the application, such as pesticide applied, pesticide labels, mixing and spraying practices, and weather conditions.
After reviewing a case, ODA submits an investigation report to the complaining party. If a violation occurred, the agency takes enforcement action against the applicator in the form of a warning, civil penalty, license restriction, or criminal prosecution. It could take months for ODA to complete the investigation and make an enforcement decision. Note that an ODA investigation and decision does not address compensation to any harmed parties—that must come through other mechanisms.
Settlement. It’s not uncommon for parties to agree between themselves on how to handle harm from a pesticide misapplication, especially if the damages are minor. Settlement might include a direct payment for estimated losses of crops or other goods, replacement of vegetation, or remediation of the damaged area. A well written settlement agreement can clarify the terms and prevent future liability issues from arising.
Insurance coverage. An insurance policy can provide compensation for pesticide drift damages, but it’s important to ascertain whose insurance applies to the situation and whether there is coverage for the particular incident. Many policies provide coverage for losses resulting from negligence or unintentional behaviors, such as drift resulting from an unexpected gust or an equipment malfunction. Liability insurance held by the landowner, a tenant operator, or a custom applicator could cover the damages resulting from negligence.
Some insurance policies will not cover certain intentional actions that could cause pesticide drift. Failing to follow the label or applicable laws and regulations could lead to a loss of coverage, for example. Additionally, a policy might contain a “pollution exclusion” that would deem pesticides and herbicides as “pollution” that is not covered by the policy. Note that federal crop insurance policies typically are not applicable, as they do not cover crop losses resulting from pesticide drift.
Civil litigation. Sometimes a pesticide drift situation can end in civil litigation between the applicator and those who claim harm from the application. The most common legal claims for pesticide drift in Ohio are a negligence cause of action claiming that the applicator failed to use the required standard of care when applying the pesticides and a “negligence per se” action claiming that the applicator’s violation of pesticide laws caused the harm. The harmed party might sue everyone involved with the land where the application took place, including a landowner, tenant operator, and custom applicator, leaving the parties to fight among themselves about who is liable. Claimed damages might include compensation for lost crops, costs of restoration, differences in property value before and after the harm, and expenses for medical treatment. If insurance hasn’t already been considered, it could arise in the litigation setting.
Pesticide drift is a risk that we hope won’t become a reality. Many management strategies can reduce that risk--education, following label instructions, selecting the right nozzle for the job, calibrating spray equipment, spraying in appropriate weather conditions, adapting buffers for sensitive crops and animals on nearby properties, and more. If the risk does become reality, both the applicator and the harmed party should be aware and prepared for what might happen next.
Welcome to August! Despite the fact that most of us haven’t seen much besides the inside of our homes lately, the world still turns, which is also true for the gears in Washington D.C. In this issue of the Ag Law Harvest, we will take a look at some recently introduced and passed federal legislation, as well as a proposed federal rule.
Great American Outdoors Act is a go. The Great American Outdoors Act, one of the last pieces of legislation introduced by the late Representative John Lewis, was signed into law by the President on August 4. The new law secures funding for deferred maintenance projects on federal lands. The funding will come from 50% of the revenues from oil, gas, coal, or alternative energy development on federal lands. The funding will be broken down between numerous agencies, with 70% to the National Park Service each year, 15% to the Forest Service, 5% to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 5% to the Bureau of Land Management, and 5% to the Bureau of Indian Education. You can read the law in its entirety here.
A meat processing slowdown for worker safety? In addition to the Great American Outdoors Act, numerous bills have been introduced to help farmers, ag-related businesses, and rural areas in the wake of COVID-19. For instance, in early July, Ohio’s own Representative from the 11th District, Marcia Fudge, introduced H.R. 7521, which would suspend increases in line speeds at meat and poultry establishments during the pandemic. Notably, if passed, the bill would “suspend implementation of, and conversion to the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System,” which has been planned since the USDA published the final rule in October of 2019. It would also make the USDA suspend any waivers for certain establishments related to increasing line speed. The resolution was introduced to protect the safety of workers, animals, and food. In theory, slower line speeds would make it easier for workers to social distance. This is especially important in the wake of outbreaks among workers at many processing plants. On July 28, Senator Cory Booker introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
Will livestock markets become more competitive? On July 9, a group of Representatives from Iowa introduced H.R. 7501. The bill would amend the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 “to foster efficient markets and increase competition and transparency among packers that purchase livestock from producers. To achieve this outcome, the bill would require packers to obtain at least 50% of their livestock through “spot market sales” every week. This means that the packers would be required to buy from producers not affiliated with the packer. “Unaffiliated producers” would have less than a 1 percent equity interest in the packer (and vice versa), no directors, employees, etc. that are directors, employees, etc. of the packer, and no fiduciary responsibility to the packer. Additionally, the packer would not have an equity interest in a nonaffiliated producer. Basically, this bill would make it easier for independent producers to sell to packers. This bill is a companion to a Senate Bill 3693, which we discussed in a March edition of the Ag Law Harvest. According
New bill would make changes to FIFRA. Just last week, a new bill was proposed in both the House and Senate that would alter the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. The bill is called the “Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act of 2020.” In a press release, the sponsoring Senator, Tom Udall, and Representative, Joe Neguse, explained that the proposed law would ban organophosphate insecticides, neonicotinoid insecticides, and the herbicide paraquat, which are linked to harmful effects in humans and the environment. Furthermore, the law would allow individuals to petition the EPA to identify dangerous pesticides, close the loopholes allowing EPA to issue emergency exemptions and conditional registrations to use pesticides before they are fully vetted, allow communities to pass tougher laws on pesticides without state preemption, and press the pause button on pesticides found to be unsafe by the E.U. or Canada until they undergo EPA review. Finally, the bill would make employers report pesticide-caused injuries, direct the EPA to work with pesticide manufacturers on labeling, and require manufacturers to include Spanish instructions on labels. You can read the text of the bill here.
USDA AMS publishes proposed Organic Rule. Moving on to federal happenings outside Congress, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service published a proposed rule on August 5. The rule would amend current regulations for organic foods by strengthening “oversight of the production, handling certification, marketing, and sale of organic agricultural products.” The rule would make it easier to detect any fraud, trace organic products, and would make organic certification practices for producers more uniform. Anyone interested in commenting on this proposed rule has until October 5, 2020 to do so. You can find information on how to submit a comment on the website linked above.
There was a great deal of action last Friday in the case that vacated the registrations of XtendiMax, Engenia and FeXapan dicamba-based products. Despite a barrage of court filings on Friday, however, nothing has changed the current legal status of the dicamba products in Ohio, and Ohio growers may use existing stocks of the products now but must end use by June 30, 2020.
Here’s a rundown of the orders that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued in the case last Friday:
- The court denied the emergency motion that the petitioners (National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity, and Pesticide Action Network North America) filed on June 13. That motion asked the court to enforce its previous mandate to vacate the registrations, to prevent any further use of the products, and to hold the EPA in contempt for issuing the Cancellation Order the agency had made that allowed continued use of existing stocks of the products. The court did not provide its reasoning for denying the motion.
- The court granted amicus curiae (friend of the court) status to CropLife America and American Farm Bureau (representing itself as well as national soybean, cotton, wheat, corn and sorghum association interest.) Those parties filed their amicus curiae briefs in support of the EPA’s Cancellation Order and in opposition to the petitioners' emergency motion.
- The court granted also emergency motions to intervene in the case filed by BASF Corporation, maker of Engenia, and DuPont (Corteva) , maker of FeXapan. The companies argued that they did not know that the scope of the court’s order on Bayer's XtendiMax product registration would also affect their dicamba product registrations and they should now be permitted an opportunity to defend their products.
- BASF filed a motion asking the court to recall the court's mandate that had cancelled the registrations of the products, claiming that the court had not followed appropriate procedural rules. In its brief, BASF also suggested that the company would be filing petitions for rehearing since BASF had not had an opportunity to be heard when the court vacated the registration of its Engenia product.
- The court ordered the original petitioners to file a brief in response to BASF’s motion to recall the mandate by June 23, and for BASF to reply to that brief by June 24.
The companies that make the dicamba products clearly intend to challenge the vacatur of their product registrations, even though the EPA's Cancellation Order allows continued use of existing stocks of the products until July 30, 2020. This dicamba battle is not yet over, and we'll keep you posted on new developments.
Read our previous posts on the court's vacatur in National Family Farm Coalition here, on the EPA's Cancellation Order here, and on the Ohio Department of Agriculture's ruling on use of the products in Ohio here.
Hello, readers! We hope you are all staying safe and healthy. Understandably, news related to agricultural law seems to have slowed down a little bit over the last few weeks as both the federal and state governments have focused mainly on addressing the unfolding COVID-19 outbreak. That being said, there have been a few notable ag law developments you might be interested in.
Federal government extends the tax deadline. The IRS announced on March 21 that the deadline for filing or paying 2019 federal income taxes will be extended to July 15, 2020.
Ohio Coronavirus Legislation. The Ohio General Assembly quickly passed House Bill 197 on Wednesday March 25, 2020. HB 197 originally just involved changes to tax laws, but amendments were added to address the current situation. Amendments that made it into the final bill include provisions for education—from allowing school districts to use distance learning to make up for instruction time, to waiving state testing. Other important amendments make it easier to receive unemployment, move the state tax filing deadline to July 15, extend absentee voting, allow recently graduated nurses to obtain temporary licenses, etc. Of particular note to those involved in agriculture, HB 197 extends the deadlines to renew licenses issued by state agencies and political subdivisions. If you have a state license that is set to expire, you will have 90 days after the state of emergency is lifted to renew the license. HB 197 is available here. A list of all the amendments related to COVID-19 is available here.
Proposed changes to hunting and fishing permits in Ohio. In non-COVID news, Ohio House Bill 559 was introduced on March 18. HB 559 would allow grandchildren to hunt or fish on their grandparents’ land without obtaining licenses or permits. In addition, the bill would give free hunting and fishing licenses or permits to partially disabled veterans. You can get information on the bill here.
EPA simplifies approach to pesticides and endangered species. Earlier this month, the U.S. EPA released its “revised method” for determining whether pesticides should be registered for use. Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), federal agencies must consider whether an action (in this case, registration of a pesticide) will negatively impact federally listed endangered species. EPA is authorized to make decisions involving pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The revised method consists of a three-step process. First, EPA will consider whether use of the pesticide “may affect” or conversely, have no effect on the listed species. If no effect is found, EPA can register the pesticide. On the other hand, if EPA finds that the pesticide may affect the endangered species, it must examine whether the pesticide is “likely to adversely affect” the species. In this second step, if EPA decides that the pesticide may affect the endangered species, but is not “likely to adversely affect” the species, then the agency may register the pesticide with the blessing of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Conversely, if EPA finds that the pesticide is likely to adversely affect the species, it must move on to step three, where it must work with FWS or NMFS to more thoroughly examine whether an adverse effect will “jeopardize” the species’ existence or “destroy or adversely modify its designated critical habitat.” The revised method is meant to simplify, streamline, and add clarity to EPA’s decision-making.
EPA publishes rule on cyazofamid tolerances. Continuing the EPA/pesticide theme, on March 18, EPA released the final rule for tolerances for residues of the fungicide cyazofamid in or on commodities including certain leafy greens, ginseng, and turnips.
Administration backs off RFS. In our last edition of the Ag Law Harvest, we mentioned that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals had handed a win to biofuels groups by deciding that EPA did not have the authority to grant three waivers to two small refineries in 2017. By granting the waivers, the EPA allowed the refineries to ignore the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and not incorporate biofuels in with their oil-based fuels. The Tenth Circuit decision overturned this action. The Trump administration has long defended EPA’s action, so that’s why it’s so surprising that the administration did not appeal the court’s decision by the March 25 deadline.
Right to Farm statute protects contract hog operation. If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you may recall that many nuisance lawsuits have been filed regarding large hog operations in North Carolina. In Lewis v. Murphy Brown, LLC, plaintiff Paul Lewis, who lives near a farm where some of Murphy Brown’s hogs are raised, sued the company for nuisance and negligence, claiming that the defendant’s hogs made it impossible for him to enjoy the outdoors and caused him to suffer from several health issues. Murphy Brown moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the nuisance claim should be disqualified under North Carolina’s Right to Farm Act, and that the negligence claim should be barred by the statute of limitations. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina made quick work of the negligence claim, agreeing with Murphy Brown that the statute of limitations had passed. North Carolina’s Right to Farm Act requires a plaintiff to show all of the following: that he is the legal possessor of the real property affected by the nuisance, that the real property is located within one-half mile of the source of the activity, and that the action is filed within one year of the establishment of the agricultural operation or within one year of the operation undergoing a fundamental change. Since the operation was established in 1995 and the suit was not brought until 2019, and no fundamental change occurred, the court determined that Lewis’s claim was barred by the Right to Farm Act. Since neither negligence or nuisance was found, the court agreed with Murphy Brown and dismissed the case.
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced an agreement with Monsanto, BASF and DuPont to change dicamba registration and labeling beginning with the 2018 growing season. EPA reports that the agreement was a voluntary measure taken by the manufacturers to minimize the potential of dicamba drift from “over the top” applications on genetically engineered soybeans and cotton, a recurring problem that has led to a host of regulatory and litigation issues across the Midwest and South. The upcoming changes might alleviate dicamba drift issues, but they also raise new concerns for farmers who will have more responsibility for dicamba applications.
The following registration and labeling changes for dicamba use on GE soybeans and cotton will occur in 2018 as a result of the agreement:
- Dicamba products will be classified as “restricted use” products for over the top applications. Only those who are certified through the state pesticide certification program or operating under the supervision of a certified applicator may apply the product. Training for pesticide certification will now include information specific to dicamba use and application, and applicators will be required to maintain records on the use of dicamba products.
- The maximum wind speed for applications will reduce from 15 mph to 10 mph.
- There will also be greater restrictions on the times during the day when applications can occur, but details are not yet available on those restrictions.
- Tank clean-out instructions for the prevention of cross contamination will be on the label.
- The label will also include language that will heighten the awareness of application risk to sensitive crops.
Farmers should note that the additional restrictions and information on dicamba labels shifts more responsibility for the product onto the applicator. An applicator must take special care to follow the additional label instructions, as going “off label” subjects an applicator to higher risk. If drift occurs because of the failure to follow the label, the applicator is likely to be liable to the injured party for resulting harm and may also face civil penalties. Producers should take care to assess the new dicamba labels closely when the manufacturers issue the revised labels for 2018.
To learn more about legal issues with pesticide use, be sure to sit in on the Agricultural & Food Law Consortium’s upcoming webinar, “From Farm Fields to the Courthouse: Legal Issues Surrounding Pesticide Use.” The webinar will take place on Wednesday, November 1 at Noon EST and will feature an examination of regulatory issues and litigation surrounding pesticide use around the country by attorneys Rusty Rumley and Tiffany Dowell Lashmet. To view the free webinar, visit http://nationalaglawcenter.org/consortium/webinars/pesticide/