SCOTUS decision changes everything in Missouri mass tort cases; Once-$72M verdict will stay vacated

By Karen Kidd | Mar 19, 2018

ST. LOUIS (Legal Newsline) – The Missouri Supreme Court's decision earlier this month to not review a talcum powder case against Johnson & Johnson, leaving vacated a once-$72 million verdict, signals that the "Show-Me State is now a less tort-friendly place," a mass tort litigator says.

The Missouri high court's March 6 decision likely sounds a death knell for the recent influx of high-dollar personal injury cases in the state, particularly in St. Louis, says Luke Mangan, a shareholder in the mass tort litigation practice of Polsinelli's St. Louis office.

"Given the state of the law now in Missouri and nationwide, it will be very difficult for many of the plaintiffs in these lawsuits to establish that St. Louis courts have personal jurisdiction, either specific or general, over these and other out-of-state defendants," Mangan said. 

"This likely means that many of the thousands of talc and other mass tort litigation claims pending in St. Louis may be dismissed and re-filed somewhere else where proper personal jurisdiction exists over the defendants."

Mangan   Photo courtesy of Luke Mangan

The Missouri Supreme Court declined an application for review of a Missouri Eastern District Court of Appeals decision handed down in October that tossed a $72 million jury award to the family Jacqueline Fox, which pursued the case outside of her home state of Alabama. 

The lawsuit claimed that Fox's longtime use of talc-containing Johnson & Johnson products contributed to her death at the age of 62 from ovarian cancer.

Fox had been one of 65 plaintiffs, including two from Missouri, who originally sued Johnson & Johnson in Missouri over talc-related cancer claims. In its 3-0 decision, the appeals court cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision this past June that limited where plaintiffs, particularly nonresidents, may file lawsuits and said the Fox lawsuit lacked jurisdiction in Missouri.

Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Missouri courts, especially those in St. Louis, had a reputation for being a friendly place for plaintiffs attorneys to go "forum shopping," particularly for talc and asbestos cases. 

The spate of talc cases in St. Louis helped drive courts in that city to No. 3 on the American Tort Reform Foundation's most recent "judicial hellhole" report.

The forum in Missouri turned decidedly less friendly following the U.S. Supreme Court decision. A mistrial was declared in St. Louis Circuit Court in a multi-plaintiff talc case against Johnson & Johnson shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling, with one Missouri business leader saying the change is for the better

In September, a federal judge in St. Louis also cited the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling when he dismissed a talc claim brought by non-residents in Missouri courts.

The Missouri Supreme Court's decision not to take up the Fox case confirms the trend, Mangan said. 

"St. Louis has become an epicenter for national mass tort litigation filings like talc and asbestos claims," he said. 

"This was the first of several multimillion-dollar talc verdicts to be considered by the appellate courts. The fact that the Missouri Supreme Court declined review usually indicates that the court considers the law well-settled and does not feel the need to further weigh in on that legal issue."

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