JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri Supreme Court recently ruled in a 4-3 decision that a plaintiff in a class action against Johnson & Johnson over ovarian cancer claims should have his case addressed in St. Louis County Circuit Court, not St. Louis City Circuit Court.
"Johnson & Johnson, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. and Imerys Talc America Inc. seek writs of prohibition to prevent the circuit court from taking any further action other than to sever Michael Blaes’ claims from the separate claims made by multiple plaintiffs in the underlying case pending in St. Louis City and to transfer Blaes’ claims to St. Louis County, where Blaes’ wife was first injured. This court holds the circuit court abused its discretion in overruling relators’ motions to sever Blaes’ claims and transfer them to St. Louis County, where venue is proper. The preliminary writs of prohibition are made permanent," the Feb. 13 decision states.
Michael Blaes was part of a class action originally filed by Valerie Swann that alleged New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson's baby powder and Shower to Shower adult powder contained asbestos that caused ovarian cancer. Blaes alleged his wife bought and used such a powder in St. Louis County, which caused her death from ovarian cancer. The ruling states he joined the Swann action in May 2016.
After the Supreme Court made its decision in Barron v. Abbott Laboratories Inc., the St. Louis City Circuit Court designated Blaes' claims for a separate trial, and the relators sought writs of prohibition.
Johnson & Johnson argued that St. Louis City Circuit Judge Rex Burlison should transfer Blaes' suit to St. Louis County on grounds the company's registered agent is in St. Louis County and that is where Blaes' wife was allegedly injured.
Blaes contended his suit should stay in the city because the governing statute does not dictate a venue in class actions in which plaintiffs claim injuries inside and outside Missouri.
The Supreme Court majority disagreed with Blaes.
"...'All actions in which there is any count alleging a tort and in which the plaintiff was first injured in the state of Missouri, venue shall be in the county where the plaintiff was first injured by the wrongful facts or negligent conduct alleged in the action,'" Judge Brent Powell wrote in the opinion, citing state law.
In dissent, Judge George W. Draper III said Blaes' claims had been properly joined in the Swann action and that St. Louis City Circuit Court was the proper venue. Judge Paul Wilson, who also dissented, said the majority ruling will mean claims that could have been filed together in one venue, will now be filed separately, wasting resources.
There have been 9,000 powder cases nationwide against Johnson & Johnson. In July, a $4.7 billion award was given to the plaintiffs against Johnson & Johnson in St. Louis City Circuit Court.