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Supreme Court declines to hear tobacco class action suit

The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday denied certiorari [order list, PDF] in Philip Morris v. Jackson [docket; cert. petition, PDF], declining to determine whether a state court erred in certifying a class of smokers who sued four tobacco companies, claiming that cigarettes containing nicotine are defective products. Despite the fact that the Louisiana state court found that cigarettes containing nicotine are not defective products, the smokers, potentially hundreds of thousands, were awarded a 10-year court-administered smoking cessation program, the implementation of which has been delayed because of the appeal process. Justice Antonin Scalia stayed the verdict [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] last September. Following the issuance of Wal-Mart v. Dukes [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] last week, the petitioners argued in their supplemental reply brief [text, PDF] that the court should take the opportunity to clarify the constitutional limits of class litigation in state courts and grant their petition for writ of certiorari. The respondents argued [supplemental reply brief, PDF] that the court's decision in Wal-Mart v. Dukes is not analogous because that case was brought in federal court and involves federal procedural laws.

The court also denied certiorari in Heydt-Benjamin v. Heydt-Benjamin [docket], thereby declining to clarify the test for determining a child's country of habitual residence for purposes of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction [text]. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] summarily ordered [text, PDF] that the petitioner's two children remain in the US with their father instead of returning to Switzerland pursuant to the second circuit's interpretation of the international child abduction law. Some courts look at the "shared intent of the parents," while others determine whether the child has acclimatized to the new environment such that the new location constitutes the child's habitual residence. In her petition for writ of certiorari [text, PDF], the mother argued that, because the circuit courts disagree on which test to apply, the court should grant certiorari to declare one uniform test.

The Supreme Court also turned down an appeal in Saleh v. Titan Corp. [docket; cert. petition, PDF ]. Plaintiff Iraqi nationals brought suits against two private US military contractors that provided services to the US government at the Abu Ghraib military prison during the war in Iraq. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed a district court judgment holding that claims for torture and other war crimes cannot be brought against private actors under the Alien Tort Statute [28 USC § 1350] and creating a "battle-field preemption" doctrine that extends sovereign immunity to contractors. The appeals court indicated that judicial restraint is required particularly in cases "where foreign policy prerogatives of our executive and legislative branches" are at issue.

Finally, Justice Antonin Scalia dissented [text, PDF] from denial of certiorari in four criminal cases, collectively Derby v. US, involving the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) [18 USC § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii) text]. Scalia wrote that the rule the court has announced for applying that clause is unclear. He expressed dissatisfaction that his colleagues failed to grant certiorari in those cases in order to declare the ACCA's residual clause unconstitutionally vague.

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