Court Partially Remands Johnson & Johnson MDL Cases

On Tuesday, the court issued a denial of the motion to reconsider the severance and dismissal of plaintiffs from the Johnson & Johnson talcum powder products multi-district litigation. The motion for reconsideration was filed on behalf of plaintiffs Kassimali, Johnson, Gavin, Reisling, Gibson, Hittler, Benford, McConnell, and Kannady in the of New Jersey. The court denied the motion, upholding its reasoning for dismissal under Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The named plaintiffs were added to the main Johnson & Johnson MDL as a result of multi-plaintiff lawsuits filed in the state courts of Missouri. The defendant removed the cases to federal court and the claims were identified and transferred to the MDL for resolution. The plaintiffs then filed a motion to remand to state court and in reviewing this motion, the judge noted that the plaintiffs fell into three large categories: 1. Plaintiffs who had shared jurisdiction with the defendant Johnson & Johnson, 2. Plaintiffs who shared citizenship with lesser-known defendants PTI Royston and PTI Union, and 3. Plaintiffs with complete diversity of citizenship with all defendants. The court remanded the plaintiffs in class 1 and 2 for lack of subject matter jurisdiction due to lack of diversity. The court then dismissed claims of any plaintiffs in class three who were not citizens of Missouri and who did not purchase products in Missouri for lack of personal jurisdiction against the defendants and required that each plaintiff be severed and file their own civil action to be included in the MDL.

The plaintiffs filed their motion to reconsider, arguing that Rule 21 was not intended to separate properly joined defendants in order to create diversity jurisdiction for certain plaintiffs and only remand certain plaintiffs. The court indicated that there were no grounds for limiting the reach of FRCP 21 and that the text specifically permitted the court on its own action, so long as there were just terms, to drop a party. The court then cited numerous cases indicating that Rule 21 can be used to simplify the jurisdictional analysis of parties in class actions and in MDL cases, regardless of whether the case is initiated in Federal court or is removed to Federal court. The court expressly indicated displeasure in the practice of adding plaintiffs solely for the purpose of defeating diversity jurisdiction which would permit claims to be resolved in a standardized manner.

The plaintiffs are represented by Onder Shelton O’Leary Peterson. The defendants are represented by Heplerbroom LLC, Shook, Hardy & Bacon, Sandberg Pheonix & Von Gontard, Coughlin Duffy, Tucker Ellis, and Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice , among others.