Supreme Court Rejects Tobacco Company Engle Arguments

PM USA "will continue to challenge the constitutionality of these trials"

Published in CSP Daily News

RICHMOND, Va. -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday in the Douglas case denied a request from Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris USA, Reynolds American Inc.'s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Vector Group Ltd.'s Liggett unit to review the constitutionality of the trial structure being used in the "Engle progeny" cases in Florida.

"Today's decision does not diminish our ability to put forth a vigorous defense," said Murray Garnick, senior vice president and associate general counsel, Altria Client Services, speaking on behalf of PM USA, Richmond, Va. "We have strong legal and factual defenses and remain committed to defending ourselves in each of these cases."

He added, "Although we are disappointed by the decision, we will continue to challenge the constitutionality of these trials as appropriate. Even under the current rulings, we have demonstrated our ability to manage these cases over the last five years. Not only has a substantial number of cases been dismissed or otherwise resolved before trial, but juries have returned verdicts in favor of PM USA in approximately half of its cases tried to verdict."

The Engle progeny cases stem from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision that decertified a class action but allowed former class members to file individual lawsuits and rely on general findings from the first class action.

The tobacco companies are challenging a $2.5 million award to the family of Charlotte Douglas, who died in 2008 of lung cancer at age 62, said a Bloomberg report.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly declined to intervene in tobacco litigation in Florida, where more than 4,500 smoker suits are pending. So far, Florida juries have returned verdicts totaling more than $500 million against the industry, the companies said in their appeal.

Cigarette makers are seeking to limit the effect of the 2006 decision, which said a jury's factual findings against the industry in a class-action case could serve as the starting point for individual suits. The Florida high court reaffirmed that ruling in the Douglas case.

At the U.S. Supreme Court, the tobacco companies said they were being deprived of their constitutional right to due process of law.

"It is impossible to conclude with any certainty in any of these cases that any jury in any proceeding has ever decided all the elements of the plaintiff's claims in his or her favor," the companies contended in their appeal.

Douglas's widower, James, urged the Supreme Court to reject the appeal. The industry "has already been given every opportunity to litigate its class-wide claims and defenses" and "enjoys every opportunity to litigate the individual claims and defenses before a judgment is finally rendered," Douglas argued, according to Bloomberg.

The case is Douglas v. Philip Morris USA et al.