22nd Circuit Judge Rex Burlison of Missouri (courtesy photo)
In a dramatic end to a pivotal trial over Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder, a Missouri judge has granted a mistrial in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday in Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court of California.
Rex Burlison, a judge on the 22nd Circuit Court in St. Louis, granted a motion brought by Johnson & Johnson on Monday that cited the Bristol-Myers ruling, which tightened the jurisdictional rules over where corporate defendants can be sued, particularly in mass torts involving dozens of plaintiffs in a single case.
In its motion, Johnson & Johnson had sought the mistrial in a case called Swann v. Johnson & Johnson, which involves the claims of more than 60 women, many of whom were not from Missouri. The family members of three of those women, all deceased, were the plaintiffs in this month’s trial. Only one was from Missouri.
“Under the reasoning of Bristol-Myers, the mere fact that nonresident plaintiffs have joined their claims with those of a handful of Missouri residents does not suffice to give rise to personal jurisdiction over the Johnson & Johnson defendants with respect to their claims.”
Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said in a statement: “We’re pleased our request for a mistrial was granted.
The mistrial decision could have dramatic implications for the rest of the Missouri trials, the next of which was slated for August. The bulk of the 1,700 women who have alleged they got ovarian cancer from prolonged use of talcum powder have ended up bringing their claims in suits in Missouri.
But lead plaintiffs attorney Ted Meadows immediately refuted the idea that Bristol-Myers sounded the end of the Missouri talcum powder trials.
“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,” wrote Meadows, principal at Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles in Montgomery, Alabama, in an email. “We plan to conduct additional discovery and depositions to confirm this position, and look forward to that opportunity.”
But he also acknowledged that the cases might end up somewhere else.
“We’re prepared to file these cases in courts across the nation should that be necessary,” he added.
Johnson & Johnson has so far lost jury verdicts in Missouri totaling roughly $300 million. Last month, a Missouri jury awarded $110 million in an individual case. Johnson & Johnson won one verdict earlier this year.
For this month’s trial, which began with opening statements on June 9, Johnson & Johnson had brought in a trial team that included Debra Pole of Sidley Austin and James T. Smith at Blank Rome.
Johnson & Johnson had unsuccessfully asked Burlison to halt the trial. It also had unsuccessfully asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit to toss the Missouri plaintiff, the husband of a woman who died from ovarian cancer in 2010, on the ground that he had engaged in “blatant forum shopping” by dismissing his claims in order to join them into the Swann case.
Johnson & Johnson also cited Bristol-Myers in its appeal of a $72 million verdict now before the Missouri Court of Appeals, arguing that most of the women with talcum powder claims have improperly sued in Missouri.