Monday, December 15, 2008
Wow. The Supreme Court today allowed smokers to sue tobacco companies under state consumer protection statutes for deceptive promotion of "light" and "low tar" cigarettes. In Altria Group v. Good, the Court rejected the defendants' argument that federal law on cigarette labeling preempts such suits. Plaintiffs had sued under the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act. The District of Maine granted summary judgment for Altria, and the First Circuit reversed. At the Supreme Court, Justice Stevens wrote today's majority opinion for the usual 5-4 split with Kennedy as the swing vote (Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer, Souter, and Kennedy vs. Thomas, Roberts, Scalia, Alito).
Here's an excerpt from the AP story on the New York Times website:
The Supreme Court on Monday handed a surprising defeat to tobacco companies counting on it to put an end to lawsuits alleging deceptive marketing of ''light'' cigarettes. In a 5-4 split won by the court's liberals, it ruled that smokers may use state consumer protection laws to sue cigarette makers for the way they promote ''light'' and ''low tar'' brands. The decision was at odds with recent anti-consumer rulings that limited state regulation of business in favor of federal power. The tobacco companies argued that the lawsuits are barred by the federal cigarette labeling law, which forbids states from regulating any aspect of cigarette advertising that involves smoking and health.
Just when we thought federal preemption was going to change the course of mass tort litigation, it seems that one of the key pieces of tobacco litigation is alive and well.