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Missouri Seeks to Limit Venue in Multi-Plaintiff Cases

In State ex rel. Johnson & Johnson v. The Honorable Rex M. Burlison, dozens of plaintiffs sought to bring their claims against Johnson & Johnson in the City of St. Louis, Missouri even though they were not residents of the city. Missouri’s venue and joinder statutes have frequently been used in mass tort cases to join claims of dozens of plaintiffs that would generally not belong in St. Louis City, so long as one Plaintiff has claims that are appropriately filed in St. Louis City. In the Johnson & Johnson case, the Missouri Supreme Court put a halt to this practice by issuing an opinion that should stop nonresident plaintiffs from bringing unrelated claims in the City of St. Louis. The Supreme Court held that legitimate but separate claims cannot be used to extend venue to a county when, without joinder, venue in that county would not be proper for each claim. 

In the Johnson & Johnson case, one St. Louis City resident filed an action, along with dozens of Plaintiffs from other states, as well as residents from other counties in Missouri, including a resident of St. Louis County. Specifically, at issue on appeal was whether the claims of the St. Louis County Plaintiff were properly filed in St. Louis City. The Court stated: “The central issue in this case is whether permissive joinder of separate claims may extend venue to a county when, absent joinder, venue in that county would not otherwise be proper for each claim. It cannot and does not. This is evidenced not only by our Court's rules but also nearly 40 years of this Court's precedent.” 

On February 27, 2019, two weeks after the opinion was issued by the Missouri Supreme Court, the Missouri Senate gave first round approval to a revised joinder bill, SB7, which expressly adopts the holding of State ex rel. Johnson & Johnson v. Burlison, as it relates to the analysis of joiner and venue. Proponents of the bill suggest that far too little mass tort plaintiffs have a connection to the City of St. Louis, where a large number of mass tort cases are filed, and that plaintiffs have abused the current joinder rules for what is perceived to be a more favorable jurisdiction then their own county of residence. The final vote on the bill is yet to come.   

Recent Court decisions on personal jurisdiction have limited the ability of non-residents to bring suit in Missouri. The Supreme Court’s latest decision, coupled with the proposed legislation, seeks to close another loophole that has allowed the joinder of claims that would not otherwise belong in St. Louis City. The proposed bill also incorporates the holdings of recent case law, which requires that personal jurisdiction over each defendant, independent of each other defendant must exist. Finally, the proposed bill grandfathers in certain plaintiffs who may not be properly venued initially but are at the eve of trial. 

The result this decision and pending legislation will have on other more recent talc verdicts in St. Louis City remains to be seen, but, given the non-resident plaintiffs involved in those cases, additional reversals may be imminent. Future litigants seeking to file mass tort cases in St. Louis City will also have additional obstacles to overcome without a relationship with or connection to St. Louis City.

© Polsinelli PC, Polsinelli LLP in CaliforniaNational Law Review, Volume IX, Number 63
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About this Author

Elizabeth Cummings, Polsinelli Law Firm, St. Louis, Litigation Law Attorney
Shareholder

Elizabeth Cummings’ creative problem-solving skills both in and out of the courtroom make her an asset to the toxic and mass tort practice as a whole. Elizabeth works on behalf of her clients, drafting pleadings, conducting research, arguing motions, and taking depositions. She has been involved in numerous depositions and drafted several dispositive motions that have played key roles in the successful outcome of her cases.

In law school, Elizabeth was a member of the Law Review, Women in Law group, and graduated first in her class. Outside of...

314-889-7005
Dennis Dobbels, Polsinelli Law Firm, Toxic and Mass Tort Attorney
Shareholder, Practice Chair

With his 25 years of trial and appellate experience, Dennis J. Dobbels offers clients an extensive background in all aspects of product liability, toxic tort and legacy liability, tax litigation, and insurance and complex commercial litigation.

In state and federal courtrooms around the nation, Mr. Dobbels has handled single plaintiff cases and consolidated cases involving more than 100 plaintiffs.  Mr. Dobbels also serves as regional trial counsel, assisting clients with complex litigation issues and managing the administrative and trial activities for clients’ complex product liability litigation needs.

816-360-4312
Luke J. Mangan, Polsinelli PC, Toxic Tort Attorney, Complex Litigation Attorney
Shareholder

Luke Mangan is a trial attorney and shareholder in the firm's Toxic and Mass Tort practice. With nearly 15 years of experience in the courtroom and numerous jury trials, his extensive knowledge in the field of toxic and mass tort litigation helps clients manage complex litigation and take cases to a jury when necessary.

Luke partners with the companies he represents to develop and implement proactive and efficient strategies to help them safely navigate what can be dangerous waters: toxic and mass tort litigation.

314.552.6869
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