A federal judge has denied Johnson & Johnson’s bid to immediately transfer more than 2,000 talcum powder lawsuits to Delaware federal court, where the company had hoped to pursue a single defense strategy.
Johnson & Johnson is facing some 14,200 lawsuits that blame Baby Powder and Shower-to-Shower for causing ovarian cancer or mesothelioma. The bulk of those cases are already consolidated in a federal multidistrict litigation currently underway in New Jersey. However, roughly 2,400 are moving forward in various state courts, including Missouri, California, and South Carolina.
The massive litigation forced Imery’s Talc America, Johnson & Johnson’s main talc supplier and co-defendant, to declare Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in February. That bankruptcy petition is moving forward in Delaware.
According to Bloomberg News, Johnson & Johnson has not filed for bankruptcy and wouldn’t have been able to move the talcum powder lawsuits or demand a stop to state court actions under normal circumstances. But in court papers filed last month, the company argued that certain Imery’s creditors with significant financial ties could make such a request to ensure the “expeditious resolution of claims.”
In doing so, Johnson & Johnson asserted that talcum powder lawsuits were overwhelming state courts nationwide to the detriment of Imery’s, its creditors, and plaintiffs, and characterized the “current nationwide” round of pre-trial information exchanges as “duplicative, unpredictable, and wasteful.”
U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika dismissed the motion last Friday, writing in her 11-page order that Johnson & Johnson “cannot establish an emergency” to justify an immediate transfer. Among other things, she pointed out that Johnson & Johnson hadn’t joined the bankruptcy action or “established financial distress” tied to the massive talcum powder litigation. She also noted that Imery’s had not requested the transfer of any talcum powder lawsuits to Delaware.
More than a dozen talcum powder lawsuits were scheduled to head to trial over the next five months, mostly in California. However, several of those cases were put on hold because of Johnson & Johnson’s maneuverings, and some attorneys have expressed concern that their clients won’t survive the delay.
Johnson & Johnson has had a mixed record at trial, with some plaintiffs winning multi-million verdicts. Most of those verdicts were later overturned on jurisdictional grounds.
In a move that surprised many legal experts, Johnson & Johnson did agree to settle three talcum powder mesothelioma lawsuits in March. All of the cases were either already at trial or scheduled to go before juries, and the company characterized the talcum powder settlements as unique occurrences.