While jury after jury has been awarding plaintiffs hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson for the cancer-causing risks in their talc and baby powder products, the company’s attorneys have consistently defended “the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder” and asserted they believe the verdicts will be overturned on appeal. This week, J&J got one of those verdicts reversed, but not on the basis of the safety of its products.
The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District overturned a $72 million verdict in favor of the family of an Alabama woman who died from ovarian cancer, saying the case should never have been tried in St. Louis.
St. Louis and the Supreme Court
Jacqueline Fox’s family was awarded $72 million in February 2016, after her death from ovarian cancer was linked to use of the company’s talc-based products. Fox did not reside in Missouri, but hers was one of dozens that were joined with in-state residents to expedite litigation, although cases resulting in a verdict have all been tried individually.
Over a year later, in June 2017, the Supreme Court frowned on such out-of-state plaintiffs, ruling that courts may only exercise jurisdiction over a claim if there is an “affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally, [an] activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum State.” This means that state courts may only hear claims by non-residents if they were injured in that particular state or the defendant company is based in that state.
Johnson & Johnson relied on that ruling to appeal Fox’s verdict, a three-judge Missouri appellate panel agreed. While not addressing the underlying merits of the Fox family’s claims, Judge Lisa Van Amburg applied the Supreme Court’s determination: “The fact that resident plaintiffs sustained similar injuries does not support specific jurisdiction as to non-resident claims.” Because Fox should’ve never been in court in St. Louis in the first place, trial court’s judgment was reversed and vacated.
Ted Meadows, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, released a statement saying the ruling “represents a denial of justice for the Fox family,” adding the family was considering an appeal.