J&J wants talc trial halted, accuses plaintiff of 'forum shopping'

By John Breslin | May 19, 2017

ST. LOUIS — Talcum powder manufacturer Johnson & Johnson has moved to halt a trial in Missouri state court in which a man claims his wife died after her repeated use of baby powder.

J&J filed a motion in federal court calling for the delay of the trial pending an appeal against a lower court ruling, claiming the plaintiff is involved in "blatant forum shopping."

The Missouri Circuit Court for the city of St. Louis issued an order Thursday that the trial involving three plaintiffs will take place June 5. The consolidated cases include Michael Blaes, who alleges his wife died as a result of ovarian cancer following the repeated and long-term use of talcum powder.

J&J and co-defendant Imerys Talc want the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to stop Blaes' action in state court. Blaes filed suit in federal court but moved to voluntarily dismiss that action, which was approved. The plaintiff filed suit in federal court two years ago and in state court three years ago, according to court records. 

The defendants are appealing a U.S. District Court ruling that denied their claim that the plaintiff must be barred from dismissing. Neither J&J nor a plaintiff lawyer responded to calls for comment by publication time.  

In a May 12 motion, the two defendants argued that allowing the trial to proceed would “moot this appeal and effectively accomplish the very forum shopping and attack on removal jurisdiction that the district court should have prevented," according to a report on the Harris Martin legal news site.

Five trials accusing the companies of covering up the potential side effects of talc have taken place, all by individuals and all heard before juries in St. Louis.

Four returned verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs, awarding them in total just over $300 million. The defendants' only success was in March.

The June 5 trial differs somewhat from the previous ones because it involves three plaintiffs and the relatives of alleged victims. Along with Blaes, Savanna Crews and Darlene Evans claim wrongful death, among other allegations.

Judge Rex Burlison, who has presided over previous talc trials, issued his order, ruling that the plaintiffs' motion to consolidate the three cases is allowed.

In their emergency motion filed with the federal appeal court last week, J&J and Imerys Talc argued, “If the case were allowed to go to trial in state court prior to resolution of the appeal, this Court would be deprived of its jurisdiction, defendants will be deprived of their statutory right to a federal forum, and plaintiff will have been allowed to engage in blatant forum shopping.

"Moreover, it should further be noted that any delay in the trial of plaintiff’s claims at this point is plainly a problem of his own making because, if he had not dismissed his federal claims, they might well have been tried by the district court by now.”

The defendants claim Blaes worked through the federal court for two years before successfully asking it be dismissed. Court records show Blaes filed his case in state court in 2014.

More than 3,000 cases claiming a connection between talc and ovarian cancer have been filed in state courts nationwide. The plaintiffs argue repeated use of talc-based products, including baby powder and Shower to Shower, have increased the odds of a woman developing ovarian cancer and that J&J did not issue any warnings despite it allegedly knowing the supposed dangers.

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