Supreme Court rules state law not preempted in light cigarettes case

Supreme Court rules state law not preempted in light cigarettes case

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 Monday in Altria Group v. Good [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act [text] does not bar state lawsuits based on allegedly deceptive cigarette advertising. The case was brought by three Maine smokers who accused Philip Morris [corporate website] of presenting light cigarettes as less harmful than they really are. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority:

We conclude . . . that the Labeling Act does not pre-empt state-law claims like respondents' that are predicated on the duty not to deceive. We also hold that the FTC's various decisions with respect to statements of tar and nicotine content do not impliedly pre-empt respondents' claim. Respondents still must prove that petitioners' use of "light" and "lowered tar" descriptors in fact violated the state deceptive practices statute, but neither the Labeling Act's pre-emption provision nor the FTC's actions in this field prevent a jury from considering that claim.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissent, in which Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia, and Justice Samuel Alito joined. Thomas wrote:

Applying the proper test — i.e., whether a jury verdict on respondents' claims would "impos[e] an obligation" on the cigarette manufacturer "because of the effect of smoking upon health," respondents' state-law claims are expressly pre-empted by § 5(b) of the Labeling Act. [citations omitted]

The decision upholds a ruling [opinion text] by the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, reinstating the lawsuit that the district court dismissed as pre-empted.