JEFFERSON CITY – Thanks to a series of last-minute negotiations, the Missouri legislature ended its last session by sending a series of bills to the desk of Gov. Mike Parson that could dramatically affect the future of civil litigation in the state.
Having overcome filibusters in the legislature after extensive negotiation and compromise, Ray McCarty, president and CEO of the Associated Industries of Missouri, said what could have been an otherwise quiet end to the last legislative session was a “rather historic session."
One of the driving forces behind the changes was a decision reached earlier by the Missouri Supreme Court regarding lawsuits Johnson & Johnson is facing over allegations its products containing talc, including baby power, cause cancer.
McCarty said the legislature used the court’s decision to craft legislation to limit what cases are heard in Missouri courts.
“The most important piece of that was making sure that we codified what had been in the Johnson & Johnson case,” he said. “If you didn’t have any connection to Missouri, then your case can’t be heard.”
It was in St. Louis’ 22nd Circuit Court that 21 plaintiffs won a whopping $4.69 billion verdict against the pharmaceutical company last year. Just one of the plaintiffs in that case was a St. Louis resident.
While he was encouraged by what the bills headed to the governor’s desk did include, McCarty said there were some sacrifices that had to be made, including a clause that allows for cases to be filed by a certain date under the old laws, and a bill that would have established where a company’s place of residence is in order to determine whether the case could be heard in Missouri courts.
“The big problem we were trying to address was out-of-state claimants with out-of-state claims being held in Missouri and clogging up those Missouri courts,” he said.
McCarty said that with the Missouri court system so jam-packed with dozens, if not hundreds, of Johnson & Johnson cases, it was harder for other businesses in the state to have their cases heard. The flood of cases in St. Louis courts helped earn it a reputation as a “judicial hellhole.”
“I think that may be the reputation that people were betting on when they tried to bring their cases into Missouri courts,” he said of the long wait times and large number of cases. “I think it was good to say that only those cases that properly belong in Missouri courts would be heard here.”
In addition to laws pertaining to what cases can be heard in Missouri, McCarty said there were other notable laws passed. Senate Bill 224, or as McCarty called it the “Discovery to Death Bill,” amended a Supreme Court ruling regarding how many claims for discovery are allowed in certain cases. The bill also includes limits on interrogatories and depositions.
“Sometimes these procedural matters in state court are so burdensome that they stretch cases out for longer periods of time, longer than they need to be,” he said. “That’s the goal of this bill, to try to make sure that our state courts can handle these legal disputes as expeditiously as you can in federal court.”