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Talcum powder case has jurisdiction in St. Louis, judge rules

Talcum powder case has jurisdiction in St. Louis, judge rules


ST. LOUIS • A circuit judge here has ruled that the St. Louis court has jurisdiction in a multiplaintiff lawsuit alleging that talcum powder in Johnson & Johnson’s products caused ovarian cancer.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison’s ruling Wednesday said Lois Slemp’s case against the New Jersey health care giant meets jurisdictional requirements required to try the case here. His ruling preserves a jury’s $110.5 million verdict for a Virginia woman who claimed Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products caused her ovarian cancer.

Slemp is among 59 plaintiffs in the case. Only two are from Missouri. Burlison’s ruling prevents the case from being appealed to a higher court until the other plaintiffs’ cases are resolved.

The Virginia woman’s lawyers have argued that Missouri courts are an appropriate venue to try talcum powder claims against the New Jersey health care giant and its supplier Imerys Talc America because they use a Union, Mo., company, Pharma Tech Industries, for labeling, packaging and distributing talc products.

“The court finds that plaintiff presented substantial evidence from which the jury could find in her favor on her claims of conspiracy, implied warranty, negligence and punitive damages,” wrote Burlison, who has presided over five trials with similar claims.

Lawyers for Johnson & Johnson and Imerys have argued that Pharma Tech was simply one of the company’s contractors, playing no role in establishing a court’s jurisdiction over out-of-state plaintiffs.

In October, a Missouri appeals court threw out a $72 million jury verdict against Johnson & Johnson from February 2016, saying the case lacked jurisdiction in light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that imposed limits on where injury lawsuits can be filed. The Alabama woman’s survivors are appealing the decision.

The Bristol-Myers Squibb case decided by the nation’s highest court said non-California residents could not file claims there against the New York-based maker of the blood thinner Plavix, ruling that establishing a lawsuit’s jurisdiction requires a stronger connection between the forum state and a plaintiff’s claims.

Burlison compared that case to Slemp’s, saying: “Here, by contrast, there is evidence that defendants’ conduct giving rise to plaintiff’s claims occurred in Missouri,” adding that due process requires him to allow the plaintiff “to make a record that would support jurisdiction, in light of the Bristol-Myers decision, a decision that was handed down after a jury verdict was returned in this case.”

Johnson & Johnson has appealed other multimillion-dollar talcum powder verdicts from St. Louis juries.

Carol Goodrich, a spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson, said in a statement that the company would appeal the court’s ruling.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Bristol-Myers Squibb case and the prior ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals in the Fox case makes clear that this court does not have jurisdiction and the Slemp case should be dismissed,” the statement said.

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