Reversal of $72 Million Ovarian Cancer/Talc Verdict on Jurisdiction May Lead to Fewer Asbestos Filings in Missouri

MISSOURI — In a case that could lead to fewer asbestos filings in Missouri, Johnson and Johnson successfully argued that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over it after a $72 million dollar plaintiff verdict in an ovarian cancer / talc case.

Plaintiff Jacqueline Fox was one of 65 plaintiffs who filed suit against Johnson and Johnson (J and J) and Imerys Talc. J and J is a New Jersey resident and Imerys is a Delaware corporation. Both were sued in Missouri. The plaintiffs alleged they developed ovarian cancer from the use of J and J’s talcum powder. During trial, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss asserting that “their activities in Missouri did not give rise to the claims of the non-residents who purchased Defendants’ products elsewhere.” The trial court concluded that so long as the non-residents proved the defendants minimum contacts, they need not prove individual jurisdiction. However, the court ordered Ms. Fox’s trial to be separate from the others. Ms. Fox passed away before trial. The jury then awarded her estate $10 million in compensatory damages and $62 million in punitive damages.

On appeal, J and J argued that the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction because the claims did not arise from activities pursued by J and J in Missouri. The court agreed based on the recent Supreme Court decision in Bristol Myers Squibb. The Court’s analysis began with acknowledging past practice where Missouri courts exercised the long arm statute and minimum contacts to assert jurisdiction over joined non-resident claims. While J and J’s appeal was pending, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a landmark decision in Bristol Myers Squibb which held that “a non-resident plaintiff must establish an independent basis for specific personal jurisdiction over the defendant in the state.” Specifically, the Supreme Court found that “when there is no such connection, specific jurisdiction is lacking regardless of the extent of a defendant’s unconnected activities in the state. Although Fox and J and J agreed that Bristol Myers Squibb was the controlling authority for the instant case, they disagreed on the result. Here, Fox argued that the case should be remained as to the factual record to establish jurisdiction. J and J took the position that Fox was barred from introducing additional or supplemental evidence at this point. The court analyzed the decision from Daimler and concluded that Daimler was not new law but rather a clarification of Goodyear. After considering those cases, the court concluded that no authority existed to permit a supplementation of evidence in this matter. Of course, the court noted its authority to remand cases for additional evidence gathering. However, Fox provided “no Missouri precedent illuminating a procedural path for this court to stay a jury verdict pending re-litigation of facts supporting jurisdiction. Accordingly, the judgment was reversed and vacated.

This is the second major verdict denying personal jurisdiction this week. The other case from Illinois can be found here.

Read the full decision here.