Federal Judge Rejects Monsanto's Motion for Dismissal in Roundup Cancer Lawsuit

On June 29th 2016 Christine Sheppard, a former coffee farmer who used the popular herbicide Roundup, manufactured by Monsanto, scored a small victory in court when her case was kept alive by Chief U.S. District Court Judge John Michael Seabright.

Sheppard, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2003, alleged that Monsanto falsely claimed that glyphosate, an active chemical ingredient in Roundup, was safe for humans. According to a 2015 study done by the World Health Organization, Roundup is possibly carcinogenic as there is a link between non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and glyphosate. Sheppard filed suit on February 2nd 2016.

On February 24th 2016, Monsanto motioned to dismiss Sheppard's case on several grounds, including Hawaii statute of limitations, where Sheppard owned and operated her coffee farm and used Roundup. Under Hawaii law, the statute of limitations for personal injury does not begin until the plaintiff discovers, or should have discovered that their damages have a causal connection to the defendant's actions.

Monsanto argued that Sheppard had knowledge of the casual connection between Roundup and her cancer in 2009. In that year, Sheppard had written and published an editorial for the Kona Coffee Farmers Association in which she divulged some knowledge of Roundup increasing the incidence of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. She learned of this possible link according to a report out of Sweden and was suspicious that this could have been the cause of her cancer. Since Sheppard did not file a lawsuit against Monsanto until February of 2016, the defense argued the suit should be time-barred.

Sheppard argued mere suspicion was not enough to trigger the statute of limitations and her knowledge of a possible link between Roundup and her cancer was insufficient in 2009. She further said that according to case law, a plaintiff's suspicion alone is not enough and that a physician must suggest that there is a reasonable possibility that the defendant's product led to the plaintiff's injury for the statute of limitations to begin running.

The court held that under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a claim may be dismissed as untimely only when the running of the statute of limitations is apparent on the face of the complaint. On the grounds that the evidence of the Sheppard's knowledge was in dispute, the court denied the defendant's motion.

By: Andre Ambrose

Intern RVRG