WASHINGTON, D.C. — Johnson And Johnson’s Appeal of a multibillion-dollar judgment in favor of women who claimed they acquired ovarian cancer after using the company’s talcum powder products was denied by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
When a jury in Missouri state court awarded nearly $5 billion to 22 women who used Johnson’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower Shimmer Effects, both made with talcum powder that their lawsuit claimed was contaminated with asbestos, a known carcinogen, the company argued that it didn’t get a fair trial.
The damage judgment was lowered by a state appeals court to more than $2.1 billion.
The Supreme Court did not provide a reason for its refusal to hear the case, as is customary. Two of the justices — Samuel Alito, who owns stock in the corporation, and Brett Kavanaugh, whose father worked for an industry lobbying organization — did not participate in the hearing.
Talc is a mineral that is chemically linked to asbestos and is used to make talcum powder. Asbestos contamination is a recognized production concern since both are mined and can exist near together in the subsurface. Johnson & Johnson, on the other hand, disputed that its products were poisoned or caused cancer.
The Supreme Court was not asked to rule on whether or not such items caused cancer. Instead, it was asked to evaluate the company’s claim that Missouri courts erroneously mixed the cases of almost two dozen women from several states with varying degrees of cancer severity.
Some of the women had a susceptibility to cancer due to hereditary or familial factors, whereas others did not. The corporation claimed that combining all of the cases misled the jury and muddled the legal boundaries between each claim.
The case should be heard by the Supreme Court “to minimize due-process abuses in mass-tort claims” and offer corporate defendants the same rights to a fair trial like everyone else, according to Johnson & Johnson. The sum of punitive penalties was also excessively high in comparison to the actual or monetary damages, according to the corporation.
In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, the corporation stated, “The problems before the court are linked to legal procedure, not safety.” “Decades of independent scientific examinations prove Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer,” according to the company.
Lawyers for the women, on the other hand, claimed that combining many plaintiffs in product liability suits is a typical practice to save the courts’ resources, especially “where similar problems — such as the product’s safety and the defendant’s awareness of its risk — prevail, as they did here.”
The ladies further claimed that the damage judgments are within the range that courts have determined is not excessive punishment.
The case has an unusual legal team. Former solicitor general Kenneth Starr, who served on former President Donald Trump’s legal team during the first Senate impeachment trial, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who served under President George W. Bush, and Tom Goldstein, the publisher of SCOTUSBlog and an NBC News legal analyst, is representing the women.
Neal Katyal, who served as acting solicitor general under former President Barack Obama, is representing Johnson & Johnson. He was a member of the Minnesota attorney general’s prosecution team in the George Floyd case and has also worked as a legal analyst for NBC News.
“It is not certain if consumer items containing talcum powder enhance cancer risk,” the American Cancer Society said of the possible health risks of talc goods. A government study of hundreds of women found no significant evidence linking baby powder to ovarian cancer, but the findings were “extremely unclear,” according to the primary author.
Thousands of lawsuits have been filed around the country due to concerns about the probable link. In the United States and Canada, Johnson & Johnson no longer offers talcum-based baby powder.