Missouri judge declares mistrial in fifth talc trial after Supreme Court restricts out-of-state plaintiff filings.

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One of the Supreme Court's latest rulings has put the fate of numerous talcum powder lawsuits into doubt, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Legal experts say the Court's efforts to limit plaintiff "venue shopping" could break up a litigation that has become concentrated in a Missouri state court, where over 1,000 women and families have sued Johnson & Johnson over talc's link to ovarian cancer.

Talc Mistrial Declared After SCOTUS Decision

On June 19, 2017, the nation's highest legal arbiter held that a state's court has no business presiding over cases that involve companies who are not based there, when a plaintiff's injuries did not occur in the state, either. In Bristol-Myers Squibb v. Superior Court of California, one of the nation's largest pharmaceutical manufacturers asked the Court to dismiss eight lawsuits, filed in California, that joined the claims of 86 California residents to those leveled by 575 out-of-state plaintiffs.

With only Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissenting, the Court held that California's state courts lacked the necessary jurisdiction to preside over the claims of nonresidents.

Pharma Tech Holds St. Louis Link

In accordance with the opinion, decided 8 to 1,  St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison declared a mistrial in the latest talc powder lawsuit to enter his Missouri state court, a case involving two out-of-state plaintiffs. Many other pending talc lawsuits follow a similar formula, with plaintiffs who don't live in Missouri suing Johnson & Johnson and talc supplier Imerys, neither of which are based in the state.

Prior to Judge Burlison's announcement, attorneys for the Plaintiff argued strenuously against mistrial, noting that Johnson & Johnson and Imerys had used a company with manufacturing facilities outside St. Louis to package talc-based products. Moreover, lawyers pointed to the complaint's third listed plaintiff, a man from Webster Groves, Missouri whose wife was claimed by ovarian cancer six years ago.

Neither of these facts were enough to sway Judge Burlison's opinion. Drawing the packaging company, Pharma Tech Industries, into the lawsuit, the Judge said, would unfairly force Johnson & Johnson and Imerys to defend against all new claims.

Plaintiffs May Have Hard Time Staying In Missouri

Now, out-of-state plaintiffs who have filed their talcum powder lawsuits in Missouri will begin fighting to convince Judge Burlison that they should stay there. One strategy, suggested by Dean Emeritus of St. Louis University School of Law Mike Wolff, is to prove that the talcum powder products used by plaintiffs actually went through Missouri during the manufacturing process. Pharma Tech Industries will likely find itself named as a third defendant in upcoming suits.

The Supreme Court's decision doesn't just threaten the future of pending and future talc lawsuits. Four out of five trials held in St. Louis have resulted in major jury verdicts for ovarian cancer patients. Those verdicts are now on appeal, but were paused by the appeals court in anticipation of the Supreme Court's Bristol-Myers Squibb opinion. Now that SCOTUS has made its holding, plaintiffs' attorneys fear that those four jury awards, amounting to more than $300 million in compensation, could be undermined as well.



The Legal Herald