Tuesday, January 31, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Federal Judge Says Request for Lawyers’ Fund in Roundup Litigation ‘Badly’ Overreached

A California judge rejected a request from the attorneys who spearheaded the fight against Roundup manufacturer Monsanto in a multidistrict litigation to hold back funds recovered by state court plaintiffs and by people who settled with the company prior to filing any lawsuit.

(CN) — A California judge rejected a request from the attorneys who spearheaded the fight against Roundup manufacturer Monsanto in a multidistrict litigation to hold back funds recovered by state court plaintiffs and by people who settled with the company prior to filing any lawsuit.

Attorneys made the push for the creation of the compensation fund a few years after numerous claims began to swirl against Monsanto that their popular weed-killing product was responsible for thousands of cancer cases across the country.

As talks to resolve the claims continue following a rejected settlement in May, attorneys who led the charge against the agribusiness giant say they want to see the creation of a nationwide fund built to pay the lawyers who handled the claims on behalf of the thousands of plaintiffs who sued Monsanto. According to their request to U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, they would like to see an 8.25% holdback of all recoveries of plaintiffs in the multidistrict litigation and also those in state court and those who had already settled their cases.

Chhabria, however, was largely unmoved by their request.

In a 33-page ruling issued Monday, Chabria said the fact that the lawyers were even requesting such a “far-reaching” order shows that the system used to compensate lawyers in large cases has become too unpredictable and rudderless for courts to rely upon. The judge said new rules are desperately in order.

“The Civil Rules Advisory Committee should consider crafting a rule that brings some semblance of order and predictability to an MDL attorney compensation system that seems to have gotten totally out of control,” Chhabria wrote.

The judge found that, on top of lacking the right regulatory framework needed to create such a sweeping fund, the court lacks to the power to issue holdbacks that would affect so many clients.

While the court has some authority in the creation of funds for those directly involved in this specific MDL case, that authority has limits. The attorneys’ request would place a tax on the recovery of every single Roundup-related case in the entire country, even if their case was completely separate from this MDL. Chhabria said his authority does not even begin to cover this vast request and noted that the lead lawyers "badly" overreached when they made it.

But the judge noted that even if he had the authority to grant such a request, he still wouldn’t be swayed.

“Even if the Court had the power to order holdbacks from the recoveries of all other people who would be affected by lead counsel’s motion, it would not do so,” the ruling states.

The judge said factors such as lawyers who have already been handsomely paid for their work in the case, the realities of policing such a sweeping fund and even constitutional concerns are sufficient for him to rule against most of the lead counsel's request.

Monday’s order does allow for the creation of holdover recovery fund —only one that is drastically smaller than what counsel originally lobbied for. Chhabria ordered Monsanto to hold back 8% of any recovery it issues to plaintiffs in the MDL so that it can be placed in a fund, but that 8% must come from the attorney fee portion of the recovery and not the client’s own portion.

And, as the judge’s ruling explicitly outlined, recovery from anybody who is not a plaintiff in the MDL is entirely off limits.

Legal representatives for both sides of the dispute did not immediately respond to request for comment Monday night.

Follow Carson McCullough on Twitter

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Loading
Loading...