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ATRA Urges SCOTUS to Consider Landmark Missouri Talcum Powder Case

Today, April 5, 2021, ATRA joined an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to grant a petition for certiorari in a talcum powder case that initially resulted in an astounding $4.69 billion verdict against Johnson & Johnson.  The case, which originated in the City of St. Louis, was based on unfounded scientific claims, loosely linking baby powder use to ovarian cancer diagnoses. A Missouri state appellate court later reduced the award to $2.1 billion.   

This case, amici argues, is the ideal opportunity for the Court to address the due process implications of joinder of multiple plaintiffs.  While allowing multiple plaintiffs to litigate cases against a single defendant can create a more efficient judicial system, courts also need to ensure defendants’ due process rights are unimpaired.  Juries can be “overwhelmed and inflamed by the sheer number of genuinely suffering plaintiffs before them.”  Joinder also forces defendants to use limited resources to address issues that affect the entire proceeding, rather than attending to each plaintiff individually.  Finally, juries may have trouble keeping the facts of each plaintiff straight.  They will inevitably blur together and “allow[] plaintiffs’ counsel to present a composite picture based on the strongest aspects of individual cases.” 

In this case, allowing 22 plaintiffs to try their claims against Johnson & Johnson at the same time deprived the company of due process.  The jury heard 22 stories of suffering and death back-to-back, all blaming Johnson & Johnson’s products for the injuries.  This influences the jury to find a causal relationship between the corporation and plaintiffs’ injuries when the plaintiffs apparently have nothing in common other than the use of Johnson & Johnson products. This created a prejudice against the corporation and a bias that corporations should not have to overcome.     

The lower court tried to solve the constitutional due process concerns through extensive jury instructions.  The jury was forced to listen to 400 separate jury instructions, a process that took over five hours to complete.  If it were even conceivable to address constitutional issues in this manner, imagine being one of the jurors and listening to hundreds of instructions over the course of several hours.  Would you have a clear sense of how to proceed?  Would you be able to separate each of the 22 cases and deliver a fair and balanced verdict?  

ATRA urges the Supreme Court to consider this issue now before the back log of cases from the COVID-19 pandemic hits the court system.  Courts may be more inclined to join plaintiffs’ actions in order to ease the burden on the judicial system.  However, the judicial efficiency should not come at the cost of defendants’ due process rights. 

The Court’s consideration of this case comes at a time when it just released an opinion on personal jurisdiction, another important issue at play.   The Supreme Court’s decision in Ford Motor Co. v. Montana, which was issued on March 25, emphasized that plaintiffs cannot engage in “forum-shopping” by suing in a plaintiff-friendly state where they are not residents and were not injured.  17 of the 22 plaintiffs in Ingham were not from Missouri and were injured outside the state.  The Ford decision confirms that it was improper for the Missouri court to hear the claims those out-of-state plaintiffs and they should be dismissed. 

It’s no secret as to why the plaintiffs’ lawyers chose to bring the claims in the St. Louis City Circuit Court.  The City of St. Louis is a perennial Judicial Hellhole ®, and currently is ranked No. 7 on the list.  Loose venue rules and St. Louis judges’ reluctance to properly apply U.S. Supreme Court precedent encourage out-of-state plaintiffs to flock to the jurisdiction. This clogs the city’s courts, drains court resources, and drives businesses out of the state leading to job loss.  

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