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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

California Supreme Court Decides Important UCL Case

The California Supreme Court issued its opinion in In re Tobacco Cases yesterday. As Maura Dolan for the LA Times reports,

The case against the tobacco industry, which lower courts had dismissed, charges the industry with luring people to smoke with deceptive ads about cigarette safety.  Brought on behalf of every Californian who saw the ads and purchased cigarettes from 1993 to 2001, the suit could produce a jury award in the billions of dollars, lawyers said.

Proposition 64 amended the state's unfair competition law to require people who sue to show they lost money or property as a result of an illegal act.  ...  Monday's ruling was unanimous in requiring representatives of the class -- the named individuals who filed the lawsuit -- to prove they relied on tobacco ads when they purchased cigarettes. Trial lawyers had conceded that point.

The court also agreed with trial lawyers that the named representatives should not have to prove "an unrealistic degree of specificity" about which ads they saw.

Business groups had argued that every member of the class -- all those who purchased cigarettes during the eight-year period--should also have to prove they bought cigarettes as a result of the advertisements, a huge legal hurdle.  The court majority said such a requirement would "effectively eliminate the class action lawsuit as a vehicle for the vindication" of consumer rights.

The court's three most conservative justices dissented, arguing that the majority ruling invited "mischief" and frivolous lawsuits that Proposition 64 was designed to halt.

Here's a copy of the opinion (pdf).   Kimberly Kralowec (UCL Practitioner) has a thorough analysis of the case.

- SBS

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