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Vitter v. Johnson & Johnson

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

July 8, 2019

GLYNDA VITTER
v.
JOHNSON & JOHNSON, ET AL. SALLY FRASER
v.
JOHNSON & JOHNSON, ET AL. CHERYL HUFFMAN
v.
JOHNSON & JOHNSON, ET AL. CHRISTINE AUTIN
v.
JOHNSON & JOHNSON, ET AL. SHAVONTAIE BROUSSARD
v.
JOHNSON & JOHNSON, ET AL. RONALD FALGOUT, ET AL.
v.
JOHNSON & JOHNSON, ET AL. MAJEED ALSIKAFI
v.
ANCO INSULATIONS, INC, ET AL. PATRICIA EATON, ET AL.
v.
BRENNTAG NORTH AMERICA, INC., ET AL. DONALD A. STRAIN, JR., ET AL
v.
EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH SCHOOL BOARD, ET AL. BRENDA JONES
v.
JOHNSON & JOHNSON, ET AL.

          ORDER REMANDING STATE COURT TALC ACTIONS PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1452(B)

         Before the Court are various state court actions wherein plaintiffs allege damages stemming from exposure to asbestos-containing products including talc (the "State Court Talc Actions").[1] A similar action, Sandra Cortez v. Johnson & Johnson, et al., 19-232-BAJ-RLB. was remanded by this Court on June 21, 2019 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1452(b) based on equitable grounds.[2] For the reasons set forth herein, the Court remands the remaining State Court Talc Actions based on equitable considerations pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1452(b).

         In April 2019, Johnson & Johnson and Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. (collectively, "J&J") removed the State Court Talc Actions. J&J's removals were based solely on the premise that this Court has federal subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1334(b) because the cases "related to" a February 13, 2019 bankruptcy petition filed by J&J's talc supplier, Imerys Talc America, Inc. ('Imerys").[3] In all but one of the State Court Talc Actions, Motions to Remand are pending wherein plaintiffs assert, inter alia, that these suits should be remanded based on equitable considerations.[4] J&J has opposed the various Motions to Remand.[5] In Eaton, 19-250-BAJ-JW, although no motion to remand has been filed, this Court ordered J&J to show cause why the action should not be remanded under § 1452(b).[6] J&J submitted a written response to that show cause order on June 26, 2019.[7]

         Where a suit has been removed to federal district court under 28 U.S.C. § 1334 (bankruptcy cases and proceedings), 28 U.S.C. § 1452(b) provides:

The court to which such claim or cause of action is removed may remand such claim or cause of action on any equitable ground. An order entered under this subsection remanding a claim or cause of action, or a decision to not remand, is not reviewable by appeal or otherwise by the court of appeals under section 158(d), 1291. or 1292 of this title or by the Supreme Court of the United States under section 1254 of this title.

         "Section 1452(b)'s 'any equitable ground' remand standard is an unusually broad grant of authority."[8] As explained by one district court:

In determining whether equitable grounds exist to remand an action removed under Section 1452(a), courts consider several factors, including the extent to which state law issues predominate over bankruptcy issues, whether the applicable law involves difficult or unsettled issues, whether any basis for jurisdiction other than Section 1334 exists, comity and respect for state law decision-making capabilities, the degree of relatedness of the state proceeding to the bankruptcy case, the likelihood that either party is engaging in forum shopping, the existence of a right to a jury trial, the burden on the bankruptcy court's docket, the feasibility of allowing judgments to be entered in state court while leaving enforcement to the bankruptcy court, the impact of remand on the administration of the debtor's bankruptcy case, and the possibility of prejudice to the parties in the action.[9]

         "Because Section 1452(b) affords 'an unusually broad grant of authority,' any one of the relevant factors may provide a sufficient basis for equitable remand.”[10] Based on these factors, courts around the country have remanded J&J talc cases based on equitable considerations.[11] In addition to this Court's remand pursuant to § 1452(b) in Cortez, [12] the Eastern District of Louisiana recently remanded a J&J talc case based on equitable factors.[13]

         Here, the earliest State Court Talc Action was filed on March 24, 2016[14] and certain other of the Actions were pending in state court for many months prior to J&J's removal.[15] Although all of the Actions were removed solely based on "related to" bankruptcy jurisdiction, many plaintiffs allege other exposures to asbestos (in addition to talc) and name other, unrelated defendants.[16] The State Court Talc Actions raise only state law claims. There is no basis for federal jurisdiction other than the asserted connection to Imerys's bankruptcy and, as noted by many other courts that have considered the issue, "[t]he degree of relatedness between the plaintiffs' claims and Imerys's bankruptcy proceeding does not appear strong.”[17] Although J&J asserts in its Notices of Removal that it has filed a Motion to Fix Venue in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware and that J&J seeks to "centralize the adjudication of claims"[18] against it, the Court finds that J&J will suffer no prejudice if these suits are remanded.[19] Conversely, prejudice to the involuntarily removed parties (i.e., plaintiffs and the defendants other than J&J) favors remand.[20]

         Accordingly, For the reasons set forth herein, the Court finds that equitable considerations are dispositive and orders remand pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1452(b).

         IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that plaintiffs' Motions to Remand in the State Court Talc Actions[21] are GRANTED.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Court sua sponte, REMANDS Eaton, et al. v. Brenntag North America, el al., No. 19-250-BAJ-JW.

          HONORABLE SHELLY D. DICK Chief United States District Judge, HONORABLE BRIAN A. JACKSON United States District Judge, HONORABLE JOHN W. deGRAVELLES United States District Judge

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