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The Johnson & Johnson verdict was delivered at the Civil Courts Building in Downtown St. Louis, MO. Photo by Tom Lampe.

Johnson & Johnson is looking to strike a blow to one of the more infamous verdicts in the City of St. Louis. While St. Louis has long had a reputation for plaintiff-friendly decisions, the largest verdict by far was $4.69 billion against Johnson & Johnson for 22 plaintiffs in July 2018.

In the summer of 2020, the verdict was upheld by the Missouri Court of Appeals. On November 3rd, 2020, the Missouri Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Johnson & Johnson and Johnson & Johnson Consumer, Inc. in Robert Ingham et al. v. Johnson & Johnson, et al. The courts let stand a state appellate decision which affirmed a $2.2 billion jury verdict against the consumer giant and for women who claimed their ovarian cancer was caused by use of Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products.

Johnson & Johnson called the trial verdict “fundamentally flawed” and “at odds with decades of independent scientific evaluations confirming [their products were] safe.” They vowed to appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court.

In March 2021, Johnson & Johnson filed a petition on three issues related to the verdict: whether consolidating 22 plaintiffs into a single case violated due process; whether the punitive damages award was unconstitutional in light of the actual compensatory award; and whether the trial court actually had personal jurisdiction in the case.

The particular issues raised by Johnson & Johnson highlight many of the concerns raised over the years with Plaintiff friendly procedures in St. Louis. Only five of the 22 plaintiffs resided in Missouri. Other than suing the same defendant for the same product, their cases had little in common. These practices have become commonplace in Missouri and are likely to continue without a ruling from the Supreme Court that would change the current litigation climate.

Continue reading Johnson & Johnson Appeals Landmark St. Louis Verdict to the U.S. Supreme Court
Equal Justice Under the Law inscription on the United States Supreme Court building.

On March 25, 2021, the US Supreme Court ruled that Ford Motor Company is subject to personal jurisdiction in a state lawsuit alleging injuries from a car accident that occurred in the state, even if the car was manufactured and originally sold in another state. In Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, et al, the Court provided additional clarity in determining if the connection between a plaintiff’s claims and a non-resident defendant’s activities in the forum state are close enough to support specific jurisdiction.  

Before the Court were two separate Ford cases, one from Montana and one from Minnesota, where in-state plaintiffs claimed injuries from allegedly defective Ford vehicles that were designed, manufactured, and originally sold out of state. Ford, a nonresident of both states, argued it could not be sued in either state because the company’s alleged harmful conduct all occurred elsewhere. The cars at issue were re-sold and re-located by consumers to the respective forum states. Ford argued that there must be a causal link locating jurisdiction only in the states where Ford sold the cars, or where the cars were designed and manufactured. Both states’ supreme courts rejected Ford’s argument, holding that the company’s activities had the needed connection to the plaintiff’s allegations that a defective Ford vehicle caused in-state injuries.

Writing for the Court, Justice Elena Kagan rejected Ford’s “causation-only” approach, holding that the connection between the plaintiffs’ claims and Ford’s activities in the forum state is close enough to support specific jurisdiction. In doing so, the Court reaffirmed its 2017 landmark ruling in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, et al, which held that to be subject to specific jurisdiction, the plaintiff’s claims “must arise out of or relate to the defendant’s contacts” with the forum.  Focusing on the word “or,” the Court explained that the requirement of a “connection” between a plaintiff’s suit and a defendant’s activities extends beyond causality. More than one state can have specific jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant, particularly one that has a “non-causal affiliation between the forum and the underlying controversy,” i.e. an accident occurring inside the state and that involves a nonresident defendant’s product.

The impact that the Ford Motor Co. decision will have on pending and future personal jurisdiction disputes is uncertain. But there is little confusion that Bristol-Myers remains the law of the land. As the Court explained, “Bristol-Myers … reinforce[s] all that the Court has said about why Montana’s and Minnesota’s courts may decide these cases.” Distinguishing the two casesthe Court pointed out that personal jurisdiction was not proper in Bristol-Myers because there was no connection between the forum state, the defendant’s activities there, and the plaintiff’s claims. Unlike the present case, in Bristol-Myers the plaintiffs were not residents of the forum state, the products did not malfunction in the forum state, and the injuries did not occur in the forum state. What Ford Motor Co. makes clear is that the place of a plaintiff’s injury and residence can determine whether a forum state can exercise specific jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant, even if the product at issue was designed, manufactured, distributed, and sold in other states.  If a state resident is injured by a defendant’s product in the forum state, the state court may entertain the resulting suit regardless of where the product was made or sold.  

Justice Samuel Alito filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, filed a separate opinion concurring in the judgment. Justice Amy Coney Barrett recused.  

Rasmussen Dickey Moore attorney Justin Ijei, winner of the 2021 Missouri Lawyers Media Diversity and Inclusion Award.

A big congratulations to RDM attorney Justin Ijei! Justin won the 2021 Missouri Lawyers Media Diversity and Inclusion Award for his work leading Rasmussen Dickey Moore’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee and for promoting diversity within the legal practice.

With Justin at the helm, RDM has taken great strides to bring diversity and inclusion to the forefront at our firm. “I’m proud that my firm has made diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority for the firm,” says Justin. RDM aims to be a leader in addressing diversity challenges among small and mid-sized firms.

Having been the beneficiary of great mentorship early in his career, Justin aims to guide RDM’s team of young and diverse associates to success in the legal profession. Beyond supporting fellow attorneys from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, Justin also hopes to promote awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion within the field of law. “Having only diverse hiring practices is not enough.” Professional development and education, along with equitable career advancement opportunities, are key to building practices that reflect the clients and communities they serve.

Justin joined Rasmussen Dickey Moore in 2014, becoming a full partner in 2020. He has delivered outstanding results for RDM clients, including a Missouri Top Defense Verdict and other trial wins.

A graduate of St. Louis University School of Law and the University of Illinois, Justin was part of an Illini football team that went to the Rose Bowl, then a Dean’s Scholar at SLU Law. He has previously been named to the National Black Lawyers’ Top 40 Under 40.

Justin will receive the Missouri Lawyers Media Diversity and Inclusion Award at a virtual ceremony on March 25th. We congratulate and thank Justin for his commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion both at RDM and in the legal practice as a whole. Congratulations, Justin!

The venus symbol, celebrating women in law on International Women's Day 2021.

On International Women’s Day, Rasmussen Dickey Moore associate Holli Dobler and member Dyanna Ballou sat down to talk about what it’s like to be women in the legal industry, particularly at small or mid-sized firms.

Last month, RDM attorneys Justin Ijei and Nathan Lindsey looked at the challenges of diversity, equity, and inclusion that small and mid-sized firms face. These challenges include recruiting, retaining, and promoting women attorneys more effectively and equitably.

While the number of women lawyers has steadily increased over the years, women still only account for about a third of all practicing attorneys. Among younger lawyers, gender parity is catching up. But as age increases, women attorneys find themselves far less represented, and the earnings gap between men and women widens. Furthermore, women only account for 19.5 percent of equity partners at the big law firms, and the income disparities between men and women at large firms is stark.

Dyanna Ballou has extensive experience as a first chair trial attorney, in addition to having served as our firm’s CEO and currently serving as our CFO. Previously, Dyanna was a partner at one of the largest firms in Kansas City and has witnessed firsthand the differences in terms of diversity and firm culture in general.

Holli Dobler just recently joined the RDM team, and although she brought with her significant skill and several years of experience, she is among the younger attorneys at RDM and in the legal profession. Like Dyanna, Holli also came from a larger firm.

With their years of experience and unique perspectives, Holli and Dyanna have some suggestions for women seeking a foothold in the legal industry. While the legal industry is still dominated by men, especially in the upper echelons of the profession, women have new opportunities to make their mark on the legal world.

Be Confident

Dyanna has seen many women attorneys quit or move on from trial work over the years. “I think that often the underlying reason is a lack of confidence.” In fact, she believes she was less successful early on in her career because of her own lack of confidence. “It took going through some personal struggles outside of my legal career to make me more resilient and ultimately a better lawyer when I re-entered the legal practice.”

It’s also important for women to surround themselves with other attorneys who will make sure to support their peers and younger attorneys. A healthy firm culture will recognize the good work being done and help their attorneys, in particular women, to develop the confidence they need to have a successful legal career. Likewise, it’s important to make sure you’re also supportive of your colleagues.

“One of the ways I have found success in building my confidence over the years is by forming relationships with senior associates and junior partners as well as my peers,” Holli says. Get to know everyone on your teams to take advantage of their varying levels of experience with both clients and other attorneys. “I received invaluable insight about client, partner and judge idiosyncrasies that empowered me and provided the confidence needed to speak up.”

Be Authentic

“Don’t try to model yourself after other trial attorneys,” says Dyanna. “Find what works for you and how best to present yourself.” Authenticity goes hand in hand with confidence.

As a young attorney, Holli was expected to wear skirt suits and a wedding ring. “I was encouraged to present myself so that I fit a certain mold when in front of a judge or jury so that my appearance would fit the expectation in their mind of what a trial attorney is supposed to be.” However, in recent years, these traditional norms have started to break down. Judges and jurors look for attorneys they can believe in and trust, and the easiest way to be believable is to be your authentic self.

Women are frequently told how to present themselves, especially with respect to jury trials. But one of the best female trial attorneys Dyanna knows goes against all the rules regarding what to wear and how to look. Her authenticity and resulting confidence present as strength in court and lead to successful outcomes for her clients.

At trial, some language or strategies that have been in practice for years have only been put in play by male attorneys. “Unfortunately, what worked for men won’t always work for women,” says Holli. “There are some lines that were written by older, male partners that I simply can’t deliver and appear authentic.” Recognizing those differences and finding your own voice is a struggle given the lack of female trial attorneys to look to for guidance. However, as more female trial attorneys continue to chart the path and take on leadership and partner roles, that issue will become obsolete.  

Be Prepared

When women find themselves in group meetings or on calls with other attorneys or clients, make sure to come prepared to add something to the meeting. Don’t accept a passive role, or you’ll find yourself left out from future opportunities. Be assertive and bring confidence to the table.

“When I’m well prepared, and I know that what I have to say can potentially add value to the conversation, I’ll find a way to make myself heard,” Holli says. Follow up an in-person meeting with an email or stick around after a meeting when there is a different setting to share your thoughts. “If what I had to say did in fact add value or showed potential, it was rare that at a future meeting I would find myself being talked over or ignored.”

Recognize Your Value as a Female Attorney

Clients seek diversity when they’re searching for attorneys. “This is one of the best times to be a female trial attorney,” Dyanna says. More clients are setting diversity goals for law firms to ensure that their legal work is done by diverse attorneys. This presents an opportunity for diverse attorneys to take on new responsibilities. 

Additionally, many clients and other attorneys feel that women are more approachable and easier to work with. With women finding themselves in more prominent positions in the corporate world, they often want to see themselves represented when their business seeks counsel. Women attorneys offer a different perspective to their clients and their work.

Actively Pursue a Mentor

A trusted an effective mentor is invaluable for women attorneys, particularly younger women in the field. “But don’t expect a mentor to just fall in your lap.” Dyanna insists that young attorneys bring their best at all times, showing initiative and excitement for the work. When an attorney shows her potential, opportunities follow.

All of Dyanna’s mentors have been men. And all of them, including RDM founding member Kurt Rasmussen, gave her opportunities that drastically changed the trajectory of her career. “I approached Kurt shortly after starting with the firm, and I asked if he needed assistance with his upcoming trial.” Dyanna assisted with trial prep work and ultimately found herself putting on witnesses at that trial. After her success at that trial, Dyanna and the client developed a relationship that brought significant new business to RDM.

Holli considers herself fortunate to have had a strong, female, trial attorney mentor at her first job. Her mentor was also the managing partner at the firm. “She gave me several opportunities that allowed me to prove my abilities to her and ultimately, when we had a very high-profile case with the firm in which the client requested a female associate, I was asked to join the team.”

Like Dyanna, Holli also had several male attorneys that served as great mentors and provided opportunities, including trial work and client exposure, early in her career. “Without their mentorship and guidance, I would not have had the depth of experience and confidence at such an early point in my career.”

Dyanna has repeatedly advocated for younger women attorneys who need alternative work schedules because of family responsibilities. “As the mother of two (now adult) children, I understand the difficulty of balancing a family with the demands of a legal career.” She understands the pressure women feel to do it all in a way that most male colleagues cannot comprehend.

While women of course still face challenges in the legal profession and in business in general, there are growing opportunities for women to demonstrate their skills and growing demand by clients for across-the-board diversity. Women attorneys will only become more prominent in the field. Women who succeed in the profession empower those who come after them and help to ensure equitable opportunities now and in the future.

Statue of Thurgood Marshall in Annapolis Square.

To celebrate Black History Month, we’ve studied freedom suits and the Dred Scott case at St. Louis’ Old Courthouse and examined diversity issues among small and mid-sized firms. Today, RDM attorney and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee chair Justin Ijei reflects on the life and achievements of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first Black man to serve in the position.

Although Thurgood Marshall is well known as being the first Black Supreme Court Justice, Marshall was a stellar attorney whose work became a pillar for the civil rights movement. In fact, Marshall argued 32 cases in front of the Supreme Court, the most anyone has argued in history. Of those 32, his clients prevailed in 29.

Continue reading Celebrating the Life of Thurgood Marshall