After Bristol-Myers Squibb's Supreme Court win, Johnson & Johnson seeks relief from $300M in talc verdicts

A new Supreme Court decision could throw into question $300 million in talc verdicts against Johnson & Johnson.

A Supreme Court decision in a case brought by Bristol-Myers Squibb throws into question $300 million in jury verdicts against J&J in litigation over its talc products. That’s how the pharma giant sees things, at least, but an attorney for the patients and their families is pushing back.

Following the High Court’s Monday finding (PDF) that limits where patients can sue drugmakers, a judge in St. Louis declared a mistrial in the most recent talc case to get underway. That case was the first to consolidate claims for three deceased ovarian cancer victims from three different states: Missouri, Texas and Virginia. The ruling will likely help J&J fight off more cases it faces in St. Louis as it seeks to appeal previous losses there.

In an 8-1 decision Monday, the court sided with Bristol-Myers Squibb in determining that patients can’t take their pick of venues when suing drugmakers just because drug companies sell products and maintain operations around the country. It reversed a California Supreme Court decision that out-of-state patients could sue BMS for harm allegedly caused by the blood thinner Plavix, simply because others had taken the med in the state.

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“For a court to exercise specific jurisdiction over a claim there must be an ‘affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy, principally, an activity or an occurrence that takes place in the forum state,’” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the decision, finding the link was lacking in many of the BMS claims. Justice Sonia Sotomayor registered the dissenting vote.

Now, a J&J spokesperson said in a statement the ruling “requires reversal of the talc cases that are currently under appeal in St. Louis.” The drugmaker is fighting thousands of claims that talc powder caused patients to develop ovarian cancer, and has suffered multiple defeats in St. Louis totaling $300 million. It’s pledged to appeal and to continue defending its product.

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“In its decision, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling makes it clear that Johnson & Johnson was wrongfully forced to defend itself in multiple trials in Missouri, a state with no connection to the plaintiffs,” the company’s spokesperson said. The drugmaker “consistently and repeatedly” fought the jurisdiction, she added.

Ted Meadows, an attorney for the plaintiffs, remains confident the cases can go forward in Missouri. His team will “conduct additional discovery and depositions to confirm this position,” Meadows said in a statement.

“It’s not the venue that makes it difficult for Johnson & Johnson ... to win these trials, it’s the facts,” Meadows said, adding that his team is “prepared to file these cases in courts across the nation should that be necessary.”

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J&J has suffered four talc defeats in St. Louis and notched one victory there; the company also prevailed in New Jersey by convincing a judge to toss two cases. Talc claims against the drugmaker have been mounting in recent months, climbing to about 3,900 as of J&J’s last quarterly SEC filing.

Industrywide, Bristol’s victory in the Supreme Court could make it easier for pharma to fend off injury claims by limiting where patients can sue. J&J has previously argued the jury pool in St. Louis has been tainted by millions in spending by its opponents.