June 7, 2021 – On June 1, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Johnson & Johnson meant to reverse a $2 billion jury award given to the ovarian cancer victims claiming that the company’s talc-based baby powder was contaminated with asbestos was the cause of their cancer. Not to be mistaken with the Court finding in favor of the plaintiffs, the Justices rejected Johnson & Johnson’s petition for a writ of certiorari or a review of the lower court’s decision. Two Justices, Brett Kavanaugh, and Samuel Alito were unable to be a part of the decision due to connections in the case that could cause a conflict of interest. By declining to hear the appeal, the Supreme Court allowed the current judgment to stand.
The case Johnson & Johnson was looking to appeal was Johnson & Johnson, et al., Petitioners v. Gail L. Ingham, et al., in which a St. Louis jury decided in favor of the plaintiffs. At the time (2018), the jury decided to award $4.7 billion to the 22 plaintiffs involved.
Johnson & Johnson asked a Missouri appeals court to throw out the judgment entirely in June 2020, with the court declining to do so, noting that “there was significant reprehensibility in defendants’ conduct” and that “the harm suffered by plaintiffs was physical, not just economic.” The Missouri appeals court did, however, decide that not all of the 22 plaintiffs should have been included in the original trial since not all of them had the legal standing to file a lawsuit of this nature in the state of Missouri. Because of this, the appeals court removed two of the plaintiffs from the lawsuit and decreased the judgment to $2.1 billion, the Associated Press reported.
Since the Missouri appeals court did not reverse the judgment, Johnson & Johnson needed to seek a higher court’s judgment, leading the company to file the petition for a writ of certiorari in March 2021. The argument based on which Johnson & Johnson requested the Supreme Court to review the decision was, as NBC News reported, “that the Missouri courts unfairly combined the cases of nearly two dozen women from several states whose cancer severity varied widely” instead of trying cases individually, in some instances in other states. Johnson & Johnson cited concerns over “jury confusion” related to the consolidation of multiple plaintiffs into one trial. Another question Johnson & Johnson’s petition had asked the Supreme Court to consider had it taken up the case was whether the punitive damages awarded in this case had “violate[d] due process.”
Reference: “Talc Lawsuit Update JUNE 2021: Supreme Court Declines to Hear Appeal in $2 Billion Jury Award against j&j.” The National Law Review, https://www.natlawreview.com:443/article/talc-lawsuit-update-june-2021-supreme-court-declines-to-hear-appeal-2-billion-jury