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D.C. District Court Provides Reasons for Denying Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss in Glyphosate Case
By Lisa M. Campbell and Lisa R. Burchi
On April 30, 2018, the U.S. District Court for D.C. issued a memorandum opinion that sets forth the reasons for its denial of defendant Monsanto Company’s (Monsanto) motion to dismiss in a case in which the plaintiffs allege that certain glyphosate label claims violate the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (DCCPPA) (Opinion). The order denying Monsanto’s motion to dismiss was issued on March 31, 2018, but did not provide any substantive discussion as to why it was denied, only that a statement that the reasons would be provided in 30 days.
Plaintiffs Beyond Pesticides, et al.’s amended complaint alleges that under the DCCPPA “the claim that Roundup targets an enzyme ‘found in plants but not in people or pets’ is false and misleading because that enzyme ‘is found in people and pets’” (emphasis in original), because, plaintiffs assert, “glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, targets an enzyme that exists in ‘gut bacteria’ found in humans and other mammals.” The amended complaint additionally alleges that Monsanto “is aware that its labels and advertising are false … but continues to repeat this claim because ‘consumers are more likely to buy -- and will pay more for -- weed killer formulations that do not affect people and animals.’”
Monsanto’s motion to dismiss, filed on July 10, 2017, stated that plaintiffs’ “claims are time-barred, that Plaintiffs fail to state a claim because the statement at issue is not false or misleading, and that Plaintiffs’ claims are preempted by [the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)].”
The Opinion outlines the reasons for the court’s conclusion that the claims are not time-barred, at least for purposes of deciding the motion to dismiss. The Opinion states, in response to some of the arguments that the claims were time-barred, that the court has “little trouble concluding that Plaintiffs’ claims are not time-barred in their entirety,” and that Monsanto is “entitled to renew its argument that some portion of Plaintiff’s claims are time-barred at the summary judgment stage.”
With regard to the court’s decision that plaintiffs “have adequately pleaded a claim” that Roundup’s label is false or misleading under the DCCPPA, the Opinion states: “Roundup supposedly targets an enzyme that is not found in people or animals, but that enzyme is, in fact, found in their gut bacteria.” Moreover, the Court notes that “even if the statement on Roundup’s label is not ‘literally false,’ Plaintiffs have also alleged that it is also misleading.” For these reasons, the Opinion states, the Court “cannot conclude that ‘no reasonable person would be deceived’ by the Roundup label, such that dismissal of Plaintiffs’ claims would be appropriate.”
Perhaps of most interest is the Opinion’s discussion of the preemption claim in light of the fact that the claims at issue are claims approved on multiple occasions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of its approval of the label. The Opinion states that “Plaintiffs’ claims are not preempted because the DCCPPA, as it relates to pesticide labels, does not impose a broader or different obligation than FIFRA.” Rather, “[u]nder both statutes, false or misleading statements on a pesticide label are proscribed.” The Opinion cites the Supreme Court case Bates v. Dow Agrosciences LLC, 544 U.S. 431 (2005) in stating that “the question is not whether the statute reaches conduct beyond such labeling,” but “whether the statute ‘impose[s] a labeling requirement that diverges from those set out in FIFRA and its implementing regulations’” (emphasis in original). Moreover, the Opinion finds that a request for declaratory relief is not “functionally a requirement that the company change its label.” Instead, the Opinion distinguishes between the declaration that plaintiffs seek, that Monsanto’s label violates the DCCPPA, and an injunction stating that the declaratory relief requested “would not require Monsanto to change its label, even though it might well ‘induce’ it to do so” (emphasis in original). The Court found that for this reason the requested relief is not preempted by FIFRA.
Registrants should pay attention to the potential implications of this case, and others like it, particularly with regard to label claims that EPA has approved. More information on other glyphosate issues is available on our blog.