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US tobacco companies appeal $270 million settlement to Supreme Court

US tobacco companies including Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds [corporate websites], along with an industry trade group, filed an appeal [cert. petition, PDF] with the US Supreme Court [official website] on Thursday to overturn a $271.5 million class action settlement. The settlement was awarded [ruling] by the Louisiana Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] in order to establish a fund meant to help Louisianans quit smoking. The ruling came after the court found the tobacco [JURIST news archive] companies had "distort[ed] the entire body of public knowledge about the addictive effects of nicotine." The Louisiana Supreme Court [official website] refused to hear an appeal. The tobacco companies argue that the Louisiana court procedure for filing and examining claims in the class-action suit was "unorthodox." Specifically, the parties argue that the court did not require any class member to prove the individual elements of their claims and that the only class members to testify at trial had already quit smoking.

Justice Antonin Scalia [Oyez profile] stayed the Louisiana court ruling [JURIST report] in September in his role as Circuit Justice for the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The stay prevented the companies from having to carry out the decision. Scalia indicated that it was likely the Supreme Court would grant certiorari, there was a "significant possibility" of reversal, there was a likelihood of irreparable harm without the stay and the ruling raised due process concerns. Philip Morris has faced other class action litigation related to its sales practices. In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned class action certification [JURIST report] for a lawsuit brought by "light" cigarette smokers against Philip Morris and other light cigarette makers. The class action, which included anyone who has ever bought light cigarettes since they hit the market in the 1970s, had alleged that tobacco companies used deceptive advertising tactics to mislead smokers in response to growing health concerns over the risks of smoking cigarettes. In September 2006, a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York certified the class of 50 million plaintiffs [JURIST report] for the class-action suit. Lawyers estimated that sales of light cigarettes brought tobacco companies between $120 billion and $200 billion in extra sales since 1971.

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