SCOTUS Declines to Entertain Johnson & Johnson Appeal

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A Win for Consumer Protections, US Supreme Court Rejects Johnson & Johnson Appeal

The US Supreme Court — presented with an appeal from Johnson & Johnson’s legal team seeking to overturn a lower state court ruling in Missouri that awarded victims of cancers caused by the firm’s talc products over $2 billion in damages — declined to entertain the case this Tuesday. 

That should come as no surprise, given the widespread knowledge that Johnson & Johnson knowingly marketed and sold talc-based products they knew posed the risk of reproductive cancers as early as 1971 and continued to do so through the early 2000s. That practice explains why the outfit has faced so many product liability lawsuits over its baby powders and “freshening powders” marketed specifically to women for use in the pelvic area, where they were most likely to lead to reproductive cancers. 

In May of 2020, Johnson & Johnson released a statement saying they would cease selling talc-based products in the US and Canada, claiming that too much “misinformation” surrounded the products after several years of widely-publicized lawsuits brought by women harmed by the products. That argument doesn’t hold much water, however, when one considers that Johnson & Johnson knowingly sold a product with asbestos in it for over 30 years and with the discovery that talc itself can lead to similar reproductive cancers. 

Johnson & Johnson Bases Appeal on Jurisdictional Dispute

With no other legal leg to stand on, Johnson & Johnson’s team of attorneys attempted to have the Missouri ruling overturned on jurisdictional grounds. A Missouri state court had sided with 22 women — 17 of whom were from out of state — awarding them a total of $4.69 billion in damages. Johnson & Johnson appealed that ruling at the Missouri Court of Appeals. 

The Missouri Court of Appeals confirmed the lower court jury’s conclusion that J&J had knowingly “disregarded the safety of consumers” and demonstrated “significant reprehensibility.” Though the appeals court ruled against Johnson & Johnson’s request to have the damages thrown out, they did significantly reduce the $4.69 billion in damages a jury had awarded the plaintiffs to $2.12 billion. That wasn’t good enough for Johnson & Johnson, though. 

Representatives for the firm sought pity, mentioning that they have upward of 19,000 pending claims of a similar nature and arguing again that their products are safe because they — no longer — contain asbestos, sidestepping emergent and established research about the role of talc in reproductive and other cancers.

The firm then attempted to take the case to the Missouri State Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case, prompting Johnson & Johnson to appeal to the US Supreme Court in a last-ditch effort to avoid paying the damages the Missouri courts had awarded to harmed plaintiffs and their survivors.

Questionable Jurisdiction Claims 

At the outset of the case, a Missouri circuit court judge opted to consolidate 22 similar cases against Johnson & Johnson, which federal courts have done since the 1960s via Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) in order to keep the courts from being clogged with identical cases that all have to be tried separately on the taxpayer’s dime. The judge agreed with plaintiffs’ attorneys’ argument that the 17 out-of-state plaintiffs did have the standing to file their cases in Missouri as the Johnson & Johnson products that had harmed them were manufactured in the state. 

Johnson & Johnson also complained that the settlement was unfair, arguing that plaintiffs’ lawyers bring in out-of-state plaintiffs to overwhelm juries with testimony in order to increase compensatory and punitive damages. Their attorneys further argued that the Missouri case resulted in $25 million per plaintiff irrespective of the details of each individual case or whether the plaintiffs were still alive. 

That’s quite an argument, given that the nine plaintiffs who are deceased died as a result of the cancers caused by Johnson & Johnson products, leaving children and other loved ones and dependents behind. 

Johnson & Johnson attorneys have made repeated claims that their right to due process has been violated, but they have yet to demonstrate evidence of anything other than the fact that they don’t think they should be held accountable for their knowing negligence in marketing and selling dangerous, carcinogenic products to women for use near their and their children’s reproductive organs for over three decades.