J&J pulls 12M Motrin bottles as recalls lawsuit gets green light

In the sort of coincidental timing that suggests that the universe has an ironic sense of humor, Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) has recalled 12 million bottles of Motrin, just as an investor lawsuit over the company's quality-control failures got the go-ahead. The class-action lawsuit claims that J&J misled investors about manufacturing problems that led to dozens of recalls, not to mention an FDA consent decree.

U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson dismissed another shareholder suit in October, Bloomberg points out, but that case claimed that J&J board members ignored "red flags" that should have tipped them off to the company's manufacturing problems and marketing infractions. This latest case also names J&J officials, but alleges that they made misleading statements about product recalls.

Wolfson allowed the claims against departed consumer-group chief Colleen Goggins to move forward, but tossed out allegations against CEO William Weldon (photo) and McNeil Consumer Healthcare President Peter Luther. She didn't rule on the merits of the case, Bloomberg reports.

One of the recalls at issue is that so-called "phantom recall" of Motrin tablets. The lawsuit claims that Goggins attended a meeting at which the phantom recall was discussed, and later told Congress she didn't know about plans to pull suspect Motrin from store shelves on the sly. That recall also prompted a lawsuit from Oregon's attorney general, who claimed that delaying a formal recall endangered public health.

And here's where the coincidence comes in: That "phantom recall" involved Motrin pills suspected of dissolving improperly. Yesterday, J&J said it was pulling 12 million Motrin bottles because the pills might dissolve too slowly when close to their expiration dates. That could cause "a delay in relief," spokeswoman Bonnie Jacobs told Bloomberg, but isn't a safety concern if the pills are used as directed.

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