A law firm representing ovarian cancer patients urged a New Jersey bankruptcy court to boost their profile in the Chapter 11 case of a Johnson & Johnson talcum powder liability unit, telling the judge that mesothelioma patients unfairly dominate the pool of claimants seeking compensation.
Aylstock Witkin Kreis & Overholtz PLLC underscored the firm’s earlier sentiments urging U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Michael Kaplan to modify the composition of the tort committee claimants who claim their illnesses were caused by asbestos-tainted talcum powder. Ovarian cancer patients represent 99% of the tort creditors with a stake in LTL Management LLC’s Chapter 11 case, yet mesothelioma patients comprise 40% of the committee.
The supplemental statement bolsters Aylstock Witkin’s April 8 motion asking the court to modify the committee’s makeup to adequately represent ovarian cancer patients, and underscores the “colloquy” the firm had with the court on the topic during an April 12 hearing. In its April 8 motion, the firm proffered three of its clients for inclusion in the committee.
The Chapter 11 case was spurred by roughly 38,000 lawsuits by individuals and estates accusing Johnson & Johnson of hiding asbestos in its signature product. J&J spun off LTL Management from a subsidiary, assigned it the company’s massive tort liability, and placed it into bankruptcy in North Carolina in October. The case was later transferred to New Jersey, where J&J is headquartered.
Aylstock Witkin said in its April 8 motion that the litigation includes only 430 lawsuits by mesothelioma patients. In New Jersey, the Office of the U.S. Trustee “attempted to remedy” the imbalanced representation by splitting the tort claimants into two committees representing ovarian cancer patients and mesothelioma patients.
But the tort claimant body was set to revert to a single entity on April 12, per a court order requested by LTL.
Ahead of the reinstatement of the original committee, the U.S. trustee said in an April 11 court filing that it “takes issue” with Aylstock Witkin’s request that the court directly modify the committee since the U.S. Bankruptcy Code tasks the U.S. trustee with appointing committee members after a court finds that a committee’s representation isn’t adequate.
LTL also weighed in on Aylstock Witkin’s requested relief, arguing in an April 11 motion that it was premature because the reinstated committee had yet to be reconstituted and there was “no basis” to conclude it wouldn’t adequately represent the claimants.
Aylstock Witkin’s motion is scheduled for oral arguments on May 4.