Judge slashes Monsanto’s $289 million award for Black man with lesions on 80% of his body to $39 million

Dewayne “Lee” Johnson reacts after hearing the verdict in his case against Monsanto at the Superior Court of California in San Francisco. Jurors found that Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer contributed to the school groundskeeper’s cancer, a newspaper reported Monday, Oct. 15. (Josh Edelson/Pool Photo via AP, File)

A California judge reduced a dying cancer patient’s $289 million punitive award granted by a jury in a case against the manufacturer of a weed killer, down to $39 million, even after the jury urged her not to.

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Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos, sided with Monsanto the maker of the weed killer ‘Roundup’ after they requested to overturn the multi-million dollar verdict and reduce the damages awarded to a terminally ill Black man Dewayne Johnson.

Bolanos said the plaintiff “presented no clear and convincing evidence of malice or oppression to support an award of punitive damages,” CNN reports.

Johnson was a groundskeeper who reportedly used the weed killer ‘Roundup’ regularly while spraying it on the grounds he worked on in the San Francisco Bay Area school district. Monsanto Co. is the manufacturer of ‘RoundUp.’

A jury agreed that ‘Roundup’ played a “substantial factor” in his deteriorating health. Johnson developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma which was at least partly due to using glyphosate, the primary ingredient in Roundup.

Monsanto has rejected the jury’s decision that its popular weed killer causes terminal cancer.

However, Monsanto and the plaintiff’s attorneys were given an opportunity to argue about the award and present their cases further. Bolanos ultimately reversed the award and lowered it. Johnson will reportedly get a total of about $78 million.

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Fighting for His Rights

Jurors wrote letters urging the judge not to overturn the award decision.

“You may not have been convinced by the evidence but we were,” juror Gary Kitahata said in a letter to Bolanos.

“I urge you to respect and honor our verdict and the six weeks of our lives that we dedicated to this trial.”

Another juror, Robert Howard, said in his letter to the judge “our unanimous verdict could be summarily overturned demeans our system of justice and shakes my confidence in that system,” Howard wrote.

Last week, Howard and Kitahata were two of among eight jurors and two alternates who attended a public hearing where Bolanos said she was possibly going to overturn the jury’s decision and reduce the amount to $8 million. Bolanos settled on a much higher amount.

“In enforcing due process limits, the court does not sit as a replacement for the jury but only as a check on arbitrary awards,” Bolanos wrote in her ruling Monday.

“The punitive damages award must be constitutionally reduced to the maximum allowed by due process in this case — $39,253,209.35 — equal to the amount of compensatory damages awarded by the jury based on its findings of harm to the plaintiff.”

If Monsanto and the plaintiff don’t accept the new award, a new trial will be set, CNN reports.

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