A $27 million lawsuit filed against a Santa Barbara breast implant company by Johnson & Johnson was baseless, a jury ruled on August 30.
Sientra, Inc., headquartered on Hollister Avenue, was sued this June by Johnson & Johnson’s Mentor Worldwide, LLC — another Santa Barbara-based seller of breast implant devices — for prospective economic advantage, contract interference, breach of fiduciary duty, and misappropriation of trade secrets after 15 Mentor sales representatives quit to work for Sientra.
Sientra, founded in 2006, was granted FDA approval in March 2012 to sell its products, one of which is the first anatomically correct breast implant available in the country. Shortly thereafter, 15 Mentor employees left to work for Sientra. Prior to suing Sientra, Mentor filed lawsuits against each of the employees, claiming they wrongfully broke their employment contracts and took client lists and pricing information when they shouldn’t have. All 15 cases resulted in either dismissals or victories for the ex-employees.
After an eight-week trial, it took the jury all of four hours to rule in favor of Sientra.
The win for Sientra was “momentous,” said Barry Cappello, one of the attorneys who defended the company. “It was a little start-up company here in Santa Barbara defending itself against Johnson & Johnson, one of the Dow 30 companies, one of the biggest companies in the world.”
“They wanted to do what they could to crush us,” Cappello added, saying that the verdict set a precedent for employees to change companies without being intimidated.
If Mentor had won those 15 previous cases, the ex-employees would have been prevented from working for Sientra, Cappello said. He explained that Mentor was trying to enforce non-compete clauses in the workers’ contracts, but those contracts also stipulated that California laws apply, and non-compete clauses are illegal in the state.
In a statement released Thursday, Sientra founder and CEO Hani Zeini said: “It is now my sincere hope that J&J/Mentor will do what should have been done in the first place; namely, compete fairly with us in the marketplace. Think how much better the market and patients would be today if these needless legal costs were invested in improving patient care and outcomes instead of funding anticompetitive behavior by this giant conglomerate.”
Mentor’s president, David J. Wilson, also released a statement after the ruling: “While obviously disappointed with the jury’s 9-3 verdict, Mentor continues to believe that pursuing legal action was the right thing to do after Sientra’s anti-competitive attempt to take 35 percent of Mentor’s sales force in a single day. Mentor is proud to continue providing employment and business opportunities in our Santa Barbara community as it has been doing for over 20 years.”
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there were approximately 91,000 reconstructive breast implant surgeries in 2012 compared to the more than 286,000 cosmetic breast implant procedures.