Missouri Court Vacates Talc Verdict: Cites Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

by Polsinelli
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Vacating a $72 million talc verdict against Johnson & Johnson, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, held that the case should never have been tried in the City of St. Louis, Missouri. The plaintiff did not live in Missouri and was not injured in Missouri, and Johnson & Johnson is not incorporated in nor headquartered in Missouri.

Nevertheless, the trial court had allowed the plaintiff to proceed with her claim in St. Louis, and obtained a $72 million verdict. This opinion takes that verdict away and, just as importantly, holds that the plaintiff will not have the opportunity to attempt to establish jurisdiction and re-try her claims in Missouri.

The October 17 ruling in Estate of Fox v. Johnson and Johnson will significantly affect claims in which out-of-state plaintiffs attempt to gain jurisdiction over non-resident corporate defendants by joining the non-residents’ claims with those claims of Missouri residents. In Fox, 65 plaintiffs, two of whom were Missouri residents, brought claims against Johnson & Johnson, claiming their products caused the Plaintiffs to develop ovarian cancer. The non-residents joined their claims with the Missouri residents, successfully arguing at trial that each non-resident did not need to establish an individual basis for jurisdiction when all of the plaintiffs’ claims rose out of the same transaction or occurrence. Ms. Fox, an Alabama resident, tried her claims as a single plaintiff in the City of St. Louis, resulting in the$72 million judgment against Defendant, who then appealed.

During the pendency of the Appeal, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Bristol-Myers Squibb, holding that a non-resident plaintiff must establish an independent basis for specific personal jurisdiction over each defendant. Relying upon the Supreme Court’s decision in Bristol-Myers, the Missouri Court of Appeals vacated the $72 million judgment due to lack of jurisdiction, finding “the fact that resident plaintiffs sustained similar injuries does not support specific jurisdiction as to non-resident claims.” Plaintiff agreed that Bristol-Myers controlled, but sought to have the case remanded in order to supplement the record with facts supporting jurisdiction. The Court declined the Plaintiff’s request, finding that the Plaintiff could cite to no precedent supporting her request to stay a jury verdict while re-litigating facts to support jurisdiction.

Missouri has remained a popular forum for out-of-state plaintiffs bringing toxic tort and product liability personal injury litigation. This most recent decision exemplifies the trend from the United States Supreme Court and various other courts significantly narrowing the circumstances of personal jurisdiction against non-resident corporations. However those defendants will still bear the burden to bring this affirmative defense to the court’s attention at the earliest available opportunity.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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