$10 Billion Lawsuit Against PM USA Headed Back to Court

Published in CSP Daily News

Illinois Supreme Court declines review of Price decision

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- A $10.1 billion lawsuit against cigarette-maker Philip Morris USA is headed back to court after the Illinois Supreme Court declined an appeal by the company, reported UPI. The lawsuit that produced an initial $10.1 billion judgment will go back to Madison County Circuit Court after the state Supreme Court declined Wednesday to hear the company's appeal of a lower-court ruling that revived the litigation.

In 2003 a circuit court judge awarded $10.1 billion in compensatory and punitive damages after a two-month trial of a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Illinois smokers who claimed PM USA deceived consumers when it advertised that certain of its cigarette brands were "light" and contained "lowered tar and nicotine."

The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the judgment in 2005, finding that the company's use of the terms of "light, low or reduced" to describe cigarettes was authorized by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

But in 2008 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the FTC didn't authorize use of those terms.

In February, the Fifth District Appellate Court sent the case back to the circuit court for "further proceedings," a ruling appealed by PM USA.

In a one-sentence ruling the state Supreme Court declined to hear the company's appeal.

"Today's decision is purely procedural and not a decision on the merits," said Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services senior vice president and associate general counsel, speaking on behalf of PM USA. "The decision simply means that plaintiffs are allowed to present their petition to the trial court. We look forward to presenting our responsive arguments about why state law makes it clear that the plaintiffs cannot re-open this case."

The Supreme Court action came in response to an intermediate appellate court decision that found the plaintiffs' request to petition a court to re-open the case as timely even though it was made more than two years after judgment was granted for PM USA. The trial court found the plaintiffs' request exceeded the time limit for such relief.

"The plaintiffs' two previous attempts to re-open this case were rejected by the Illinois Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court has also denied review. We believe that the plaintiffs' latest attempt is equally without merit," Garnick added.