On February 26, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District Court of California issued a memorandum and order on the plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction (Order) to “enjoin the listing of glyphosate under Proposition 65 (Prop 65) and the application of its attendant warning requirement pending a final judgment in this case and set a schedule for expedited final resolution of the case.” The Order (1) grants plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction enjoining the warning requirement of California Health & Safety Code § 25249.6 as to glyphosate; and (2) denies the request for a preliminary injunction enjoining defendants from listing glyphosate as a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer under California Health & Safety Code § 25249.8. Specifically, the Order states: “pending final resolution of this action, defendants … are hereby ENJOINED from enforcing as against plaintiffs … California Health & Safety Code § 25249.6’s requirement that any person in the course of doing business provide a clear and reasonable warning before exposing any individual to glyphosate.” Although this is only a preliminary injunction while the case continues further resolution, it is extremely significant that, for now, glyphosate will continue to be listed on California’s Prop 65 list as a “chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer,” but products containing glyphosate will not be required to comply with the warning requirement.

Plaintiffs’ memorandum supporting its motion for preliminary injunction states that Prop 65’s requirement for products containing glyphosate to include a warning that glyphosate is “known to the State of California to cause cancer” is unconstitutional under the First Amendment, and, if allowed to go into effect, will cause Plaintiffs’ “reputational, competitive, and economic harms for which they cannot be compensated.” Plaintiffs state that the “legal merit of their First Amendment claim is indisputable and obvious on the face of the attached documents without any need for discovery, and thus the claim is appropriate for expedited judicial resolution.” California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), the agency responsible for implementing Prop 65, listed glyphosate as a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer on July 7, 2017, and the attendant warning requirement would have taken effect on July 7, 2018.

In support of denying the request for a preliminary injunction enjoining defendants from listing glyphosate under Prop 65, the court states that plaintiffs “have not shown a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the listing of glyphosate violates the First Amendment, because the listing is government speech, not private speech … [and it] is only the upcoming July 2018 deadline for providing the [Prop 65] warning that compels private speech.” The court noted further that Plaintiffs “have not shown a likelihood of irreparable harm should the court fail to enjoin the listing of glyphosate, because any harm that plaintiffs might suffer is caused by the warning requirements of [Prop 65], rather than the listing itself.” Accordingly, the court denied a preliminary injunction based on plaintiffs’ claim that the glyphosate listing violates the First Amendment.

On the other hand, in support of granting the request for a preliminary injunction enjoining the application of the attendant warning requirement, the court stated:

  • On the evidence before the court, the required warning for glyphosate does not appear to be factually accurate and uncontroversial because it conveys the message that glyphosate’s carcinogenicity is an undisputed fact, when almost all other regulators have concluded that there is insufficient evidence that glyphosate causes cancer.

The court also stated that the required warnings are “false and misleading” and that plaintiffs “have shown that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their First Amendment claim, are likely to suffer irreparable harm absent an injunction, and that the balance of equities and public interest favor an injunction, the court will grant plaintiffs’ request to enjoin [Prop 65]’s warning requirement for glyphosate.”

This case, while not the end of the story, is a very significant development both for glyphosate specifically and perhaps for Prop 65 warning requirements generally. Industry should follow this case closely given the implications for glyphosate and potentially other Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)-regulated pesticides and chemicals generally. Some in industry have long been concerned that Prop 65 warning requirements contradict conclusions supported by the data and reached by other agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This decision is a huge preliminary win for those with these concerns and, depending on the ultimate outcome of the case, could provide a precedent for additional challenges related to other substances. The potential reach of the case beyond glyphosate, however, will likely be dictated heavily by the facts of each case.