On June 23, 2020, the Eastern District of Missouri Court of Appeals upheld a verdict entered against Johnson & Johnson and other affiliated companies. The case was originally tried in front of a jury in 2018 in the City of St. Louis and involved multiple plaintiffs who claimed they developed ovarian cancer after using baby powder that was contaminated with asbestos and other carcinogens. Some of the plaintiffs were Missouri residents, while seventeen lived, purchased, used, and developed cancer outside the State of Missouri. After a historically high verdict of $4.69 billion, including punitive damages and compensatory damages, Johnson & Johnson and other defendants appealed the verdict, arguing, in part, that the court lacked personal jurisdiction.
In its appeal, Johnson & Johnson relied on Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2017). Under that case, the plaintiffs argued specific personal jurisdiction existed because Johnson & Johnson had a longstanding contractual relationship with a Missouri company who was involved the manufacturing, packaging, and supply of two of the products at issue in the case. Because the products that were used by the out-of-state plaintiffs were manufactured, packaged, and supplied by and/or at the specific direction of Johnson & Johnson and their contractual affiliate, the court found that jurisdiction existed over the claims by the non-Missouri resident plaintiffs.
In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeals found that each of the 17 non-resident plaintiffs purchased and applied the products in their home states and developed ovarian cancer in their home states. The court held that there must be an adequate link, pursuant to Bristol-Myers Squbb, Co., between the defendants’ activities in Missouri and the non-resident plaintiffs’ claims before specific jurisdiction could be imposed. The Court of Appeals distinguished the facts in this case from those in Bristol-Myers Squbb, Co. by noting that the Johnson & Johnson products at issue were actually manufactured and packaged in Missouri or were done so in another state but under the specific direction and control of Johnson & Johnson’s contractual affiliate who is headquartered in Missouri. Conversely, in Bristol-Myers Squibb, Co., the United States Supreme Court found no specific jurisdiction existed over non-California plaintiffs’ claims where the pharmaceutical products at issue were not manufactured, packaged, or developed in California.
The court goes on to analyze various other issues, including whether the plaintiffs’ claims were properly joined in the same lawsuit, whether punitive damages were appropriate, and other issues. Aside from upholding judgment against Johnson & Johnson, the Court of Appeals also reduced the verdict to a total of $2.1 billion from the original number of $4.69 billion. The parties are still able to appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court.