Johnson & Johnson is hitting the pause button on its Supreme Court appeal of a $2.1 billion judgment tied to its talcum powder products.

In an April 22 filing with the high court, Johnson & Johnson’s attorneys asked the court to delay distributing its March 2 petition and brief until May 11 due to pandemic-related issues.

“The COVID-19 pandemic presents personal and logistical challenges for [Johnson & Johnson’s] counsel, who must balance their work commitments — including this case — with continued childcare and other responsibilities, all while still working fully remotely,” the letter states.

Ovarian Cancer Claims

The appeal centers on a multi-billion dollar verdict issued against the pharmaceutical powerhouse last June by the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District. The verdict was in favor of 22 women who claimed that regular use of Johnson & Johnson talcum products had given them ovarian cancer, and also argued that the company had known for decades that its talcum products were laced with asbestos.

Johnson & Johnson has repeatedly denied that its talcum-based products contain asbestos, and argued in its appeal that Missouri’s decision to join all of these different complaints together into a mass tort was fundamentally unfair.

“The jury was confronted with 22 different plaintiffs with dramatically different cancer-risk profiles, prognoses, and talc use,” the petition stated. “The mass trial papered over these differences, allowing the jury to overlook significant weaknesses in individual plaintiffs’ claims — and to infer causation from the number of plaintiffs before it.”

Many of these same points were rejected by the Missouri appellate court, which noted that the various plaintiffs’ allegations “arose out of the same basic injuries, same defect, same alleged duty, and same causes of action.”

Pressed for Time

Regarding the requested delay, the letter explains that a rebuttal filing posted April 19 by attorneys for 20 of the women who won the verdict came earlier than Johnson & Johnson’s attorneys expected and was difficult to juggle with their current caseload and the difficulties that COVID-19 represents.

The high court granted the request a day later.

Two of the attorneys representing the ovarian cancer victims before the high court are well known: Ken Starr, whose investigation of Whitewater ultimately led to Bill Clinton’s 1998 impeachment, and John Ashcroft, who served as attorney general under George W. Bush.

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