Johnson & Johnson's string of talc victories has come to an end as a judge in Missouri upheld a $110 million verdict against the company. What's more, the decision could signal trouble ahead for the drugmaker as the judge ruled jurisdiction exists in the case despite the plaintiff's status as an out-of-state resident.
Plaintiff Lois Slemp's victory came despite the Supreme Court's ruling in a case involving Bristol-Myers Squibb that established strict guidelines on where patients can sue drugmakers for harm. In that case, the court ruled plaintiffs can’t take their pick of venues when suing pharma companies just because drug companies sell products and maintain operations around the country.
So, to convince the court to uphold the verdict under that requirement, Slemp's attorneys pointed to J&J's relationship with Missouri-based packaging and distribution company PharmaTech.
“Upon review of the record and the standard as enunciated in Bristol Myers, the Court finds that plaintiffs have sufficiently established that specific personal jurisdiction exists," Judge Rex Burlison wrote in the opinion (PDF), issued Wednesday.
Burlison's ruling clashes with J&J's argument that many of the Missouri cases should be thrown out due to lack of jurisdiction. The drugmaker faces thousands of cases alleging routine talc use caused ovarian cancer and other serious conditions, with many concentrated in Missouri. But the company isn't giving up on the case.
A J&J spokesperson said the company is "disappointed with the court’s ruling and we will seek appellate review.”
"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," she added.
Ted Meadows, an attorney for Slemp, said in a statement the ruling "confirms that even the limited evidence we’ve uncovered regarding PharmaTech is sufficient to meet the high standard set by the Supreme Court, and should allow us to affirm the earlier verdicts and move forward with additional trials in Missouri."
Despite suffering more than $700 million in early talc losses, J&J has won a $417 million appeal in Los Angeles and successfully overturned a $72 million case in Missouri. In the first Missouri appeal, an appellate panel threw out the verdict due to concerns over jurisdiction.
A J&J spokesperson said at the time the company was "pleased with the opinion" and would "continue to move forward with the appeals process."
"In the cases involving nonresident plaintiffs who sued in the state of Missouri, we consistently argued that there was no jurisdiction and we expect the existing verdicts that we are appealing to be reversed," the company's representative said via email.
According to J&J's recent quarterly filing with the SEC, the drugmaker now faces about 5,500 cases claiming talc caused harm.