St. Louis Record

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Due to high court ruling, mistrial declared in talc case against Johnson & Johnson

By Michael McGrady | Jun 22, 2017


ST. LOUIS – A multiplaintiff complaint against Johnson & Johnson has resulted in a mistrial after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a ruling on a similar case, altering the outcome of the lawsuit targeting consumer talc products distributed by the defendant and its contracted distributors.

The case of Valerie Swann, et al. v. Johnson & Johnson, et al., heard before Judge Rex Burlison of the 22nd Judicial Circuit of Missouri in St. Louis, ended with the magistrate handing down a mistrial ruling based on the grounds that the plaintiffs in the case are from outside of the court’s jurisdiction, according to the case’s docket filings maintained by the Missouri state Office of States Court Administrator.

A corporate spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson said that the mistrial is a step in the right direction.

This mistrial reflects the Supreme Court’s recent ruling – one of the many featuring newly installed Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch – in the case of Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court of California, which gave Johnson & Johnson a “win” for this talc case. Members of the Supreme Court issued their final decision down a line of eight justices siding with Bristol-Myers and one justice siding with the California courts.

The opinion of the court was that out-of-state petitioners against Bristol-Myers, in a class-action case pertaining to the company’s Plavix medication, did not have the right to sue when declared not privy or not a resident for the given jurisdiction. According to the Supreme Court’s opinion, the courts of California “lack specific jurisdiction to entertain the nonresidents’ claims.”

“Our decision does not prevent the California and out-of-state plaintiffs from joining together in a consolidated action in the States that have general jurisdiction over [Bristol-Myers],” the majority said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor served as the only dissenting vote on the majority opinion of her colleagues, saying this decision limits citizens' access to the nation’s judicial systems.

“I fear the consequences of the Court’s decision today will be substantial,” Sotomayor wrote. “The majority’s rule will make it difficult to aggregate the claims of plaintiffs across the country whose claims may be worth little alone.”

Counsel for the defendants in the Missouri case – Johnson & Johnson and talc supplier Imerys Talc America – cited the Bristol-Myers case during arguments.

Burlison entertained the argument and ruled the mistrial, citing the opinion of the case, which said state courts cannot hear claims against allegedly bad-acting corporate entities from those not based in the state where the case was filed when the injuries did not occur there.

The particular case featured several plaintiffs from out of state, claiming injury after using talc products sold, distributed and marketed by Johnson & Johnson and its affiliates. Only one of the plaintiffs had declared residency in Missouri during this case, which alleged a connection between Johnson & Johnson talc products and cancer.

Legal counsel representing the plaintiffs indicated that they aren’t going to let the mistrial ruling stop them from taking on more cases against Johnson & Johnson and its affiliated companies.

“It’s not the venue that makes it difficult for Johnson & Johnson and Imerys to win these trials, it’s the facts,” Ted Meadows, counselor for the plaintiffs and a principal at Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles P.C., said in a press release provided to the St. Louis Record.  “After reviewing this morning’s Supreme Court ruling, and based on evidence and statements now in the record, we believe this litigation can go forward in Missouri courts. We plan to conduct additional discovery and depositions to confirm this position, and look forward to that opportunity.”

Meadows said that the firm will work on behalf of its clients to file similar major tort actions against Johnson & Johnson in jurisdictions all over the United States.

“Our trial team remains confident that the evidence and the science remains on the side of our clients,” he said. “We’re prepared to file these cases in courts across the nation should that be necessary, and believe that jurors will continue to carefully consider the clear link between talcum powder use and ovarian cancer.”

Johnson & Johnson has been involved in thousands of similar lawsuits in recent years. However, the decision from the Supreme Court could overturn several other high-stakes cases against Johnson & Johnson filed in Missouri courts. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has reported some of those cases had verdicts favoring the plaintiffs, with judgments totaling over $300 million each.  

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