Missouri Supreme Court holds that improper venue and joinder are not grounds for reversal without a showing of specific events or actions that constitute prejudice.
September 21, 2017
The Missouri Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Barron, et al., and Schmidt v. Abbott Laboratories, Inc., SC96151, on September 12, 2017. The case involved an appeal of a jury verdict in which the defendant claimed improper venue and joinder of claims.
Maddison Schmidt, an out-of-state plaintiff, alleged that a drug manufactured by Abbott Laboratories, an out-of-state corporation, caused her birth defects. Her lawsuit was joined with those of four Missouri plaintiffs and 19 non-Missouri plaintiffs and filed in the city of St. Louis. Abbott sought unsuccessfully to sever the plaintiffs’ individual claims and to transfer the non-Missouri plaintiffs’ claims to St. Louis County. The trial court ultimately decided that the plaintiffs’ cases would be tried individually but maintained the claims as a single action in the city of St. Louis. A jury awarded Schmidt $15 million in compensatory damages and $23 million in punitive damages. Abbott appealed, arguing that the plaintiffs’ claims were improperly joined and that venue was improper as to Schmidt and the other non-Missouri plaintiffs. The case was transferred to the Supreme Court of Missouri after opinion by the Court of Appeals Eastern District.
The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed the judgment against Abbott. The majority opinion, written by Judge Powell and joined by Judges Draper, Russell, and Breckenridge, concluded that Abbott was not entitled to reversal even if the trial court erred in failing to transfer venue or sever claims because it failed to show it was prejudiced by those rulings as required by Rule 84.13(b). Abbott’s general claim that the city of St. Louis is a more favorable venue for plaintiffs than St. Louis County was not sufficient to show prejudice when Abbott could point to no specific events or actions rendering its trial unfair. In a footnote, the majority observed that claims such as improper venue and joinder may be better raised in a pretrial writ because, in that context, no prejudice showing is required. The majority opinion also determined that the trial court properly submitted Schmidt’s failure-to-warn and punitive damages claims to the jury.
In a concurring opinion joined by Chief Justice Fischer and Judge Stith, Judge Wilson agreed that the judgment should be affirmed. The minority concluded that St. Louis City was the proper venue and also argued that a party should not be required to show prejudice on appeal after unsuccessfully seeking severance of claims and transfer to proper venues.