Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Engle v. Liggett Group involved a class action of approximately 700,000 Florida residents against various tobacco manufacturers. In 1999, a jury found in favor of the class and entered specific findings of fact. In 2006, however, the Florida Supreme Court decertified the class, but held that the jury's findings on causation should be given "res judicata effect" in future suits against tobacco manufacturers. As the Daily Business Review (via law.com) reports, "[a]bout 8,000 smokers met a January deadline set by the state's high court to file individual lawsuits with the benefit of the ... jury findings."
Now, in an order (pdf) issued August 28th, U.S. District Judge Howard Schlesinger (M.D. Fla.) has held that the jury's findings in Engle cannot be given preclusive effect. Judge Schlesinger based his decision on two grounds: (1) the jury's findings do not satisfy the standard for issue preclusion under Florida law, and (2) applying the jury's findings in subsequent suits would violate the defendants' due process rights.
Judge Schlesinger has certified his order to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. In the meantime, U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday (M.D. Fla.) has adopted Judge Schlesinger's order in another Engle progeny suit. Stay tuned!