A Wave of Litigation'

Philip Morris files many counterfeiting lawsuits against retailers, wholesalers

Published in CSP Daily News

FRUITLAND, Idaho -- CSP Daily News has learned that Philip Morris USA is in the midst of a wave of litigation that will land retailers, wholesalers and importers across the country in court for allegedly selling counterfeit cigarettes.

According to company spokesperson Dana Bolden, the Richmond, Va., company filed many lawsuits in the first quarter of this year. He would not offer retailer names. However, legal documents for three of the lawsuits reveal several complaints that involve convenience store retailers in the West.

This [image-nocss] is part of a wave of litigation that we're filing, Bolden told CSP Daily News. I can't really give you any specifics. There's some pending litigation that if I give too much detail on, it might compromise. Suffice to say that the one [lawsuit] you're calling about is one of many lawsuits that we've filed.

Stores named in the complaints include The Orchard Store, a c-store and grocery based in Fruitland, Idaho (complaint filed March 31, 2006); Las Vegas stores American Mini Market, Express Mart 2, M&H Trading Discount Food Mart, Maria's Market, Monterey Market, Rainbow Market #3, Rosita's Market and Sunshine Market; and The One Stop in Moapa, Nev. Liquor stores and restaurants are also named in the Las Vegas compliant filed Jan. 19, 2006.

Dollar Store Only LLC, based in Phoenix, also is named in a separate complaint filed on March 31.

In all the complaints, Philip Morris charges that the defendants have sold, offered for sale or otherwise contributed to the sale of counterfeit Marlboro and/or Marlboro Lights brand cigarettes and are therefore liable for direct and/or indirect contributory infringement of Philip Morris USA's lawfully owned trademarks and trade dress. Defendants' conduct has produced and, unless enjoined by the court, will continue to produce widespread consumer confusion and deception as well as irreparable injury to Philip Morris USA.

At least one of the retailers named in the lawsuits is claiming his innocence. The owner of The Orchard Store, Alberto Gonzalez, told The Associated Press he does not even sell whole packs of cigarettes at his store. Instead, he said, he occasionally sells individual cigarettes. And Gonzalez said he has never carried Marlboro brand cigarettes in his convenience store. He had not yet seen the lawsuit against him and his store.

"I only have sold Camels and Winstons, and I don't even sell a whole pack. Right now I only have four packs or eight packs in the entire store," Gonzalez said.

Philip Morris claims it discovered the alleged counterfeits after someone hired as a "purchaser" for the company bought some packs from The Orchard Store and sent them to a company facility, according to the lawsuit.

"Philip Morris then examined them using a series of proprietary inspection methods and conclusively determined one or more of the packs purchased from defendant's retail establishment is counterfeit," the company said in the lawsuit.

Philip Morris is asking a judge to stop the stores from selling any phony Marlboros, to order the stores to turn over all profits from the fakes and to pay other damages and attorney's fees.