Recoiling in horror from the unconscionable exploit of the American legal system perpetuated by Johnson & Johnson in sidestepping its liability for millions of potential cases of cancer across the country, members of Congress have introduced the Nondebtor Release Prohibition Act of 2021. The legislation would help close the kind of legal loopholes that J&J used to unload its talc asbestos liability onto a newly created company and then immediately declare that new company bankrupt.
According to the website of the House Oversight Committee, the legislation would specifically prohibit courts from “discharging, releasing, terminating, or modifying the liability of and claim or cause of action against any entity other than the debtor or estate.”
Reaction in Congress to news of Johnson & Johnson’s news was as damning as it was swift. In a joint statement issued from the Chairs of the House Judiciary Committee and the Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law Subcommittee, Johnson & Johnson’s ongoing denials of any talc in its asbestos were instantly dismissed. “For decades, the asbestos in Johnson and Johnson’s talc products gave its customers agonizing forms of cancer, with the apparent knowledge of Johnson and Johnson’s executives. And now, like the Sackler family who made billions flooding the streets with Oxycontin, and like the people who enabled sexual predators like Larry Nassar and Harvey Weinstein, Johnson and Johnson is seeking to use bankruptcy to ‘get away with it.’ This latest ploy adds to our already urgent obligation to take up the Nondebtor Release Prohibition Act and continue to conduct rigorous oversight of the bankruptcy system to restore the principles of fairness and equal justice on which the legitimacy of our judicial system depends.”
Calling the Texas two-step bankruptcy employed by J&J “sickening,” the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform also invoked the Sackler family in her rebuke. “Just like the Sacklers,” she said, “who are using a legal loophole to escape accountability for their role in the opioid epidemic, Johnson & Johnson is blatantly abusing our bankruptcy system in a way that protects the wealthy and giant corporations and stiffs the ordinary Americans who they have harmed.”
One can only hope that the legislation is able to make its way through a Washington, D.C. that is as divided as its country. Surely, through all of our differences, we should be able to come together and, as a nation, say that what Johnson & Johnson has done – and is doing – is wrong, and it should be held accountable. Because in the end, regardless of whether anyone wants to acknowledge it in their grand political speeches, the fact remains that the only reason J&J was able to sidestep its legal liabilities and kill millions of Americans with essentially no repercussions is because the law allowed them to do so.