Federal court denies class certification in 'light' cigarette case

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Aug 9, 2013

MILWAUKEE (Legal Newsline) -- Another court has denied class certification in a "light" cigarette case.

MILWAUKEE (Legal Newsline) -- Another court has denied class certification in a "light" cigarette case.

Judge Lynn Adelman for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, in his 12-page decision and order Thursday, ruled against plaintiff Charles Wyatt.

Wyatt sought to represent a class composed of all Wisconsin residents who bought light cigarettes manufactured by Richmond, Va.-based Philip Morris USA Inc. between June 16, 2003 to present.

He claimed that from the early 1970s until the summer of 2010, Philip Morris marketed its "Lights" and "Ultra Lights" as being safer to smoke than regular cigarettes, and that the company knew they weren't safer to smoke.

The proposed class sought to recover a portion of the money they spent purchasing the cigarettes, and damages.

As Adelman noted in his decision, Wyatt did not point to any marketing materials issued by the company that stated the light cigarettes were, indeed, safer to smoke.

In addition, a fundamental requirement for class certification is that the plaintiff be able to show that he and the absent class members have suffered the same injury as a result of the defendant's conduct.

"The central problem with plaintiff's theory of class certification is that it is doubtful that, between 2003 and the present, all Wisconsin purchasers of Philip Morris's light cigarettes believed that such cigarettes were necessarily safer to smoke than regular cigarettes," Adelman wrote. "Indeed, the plaintiff has pointed to no Wisconsin resident, other than himself, who, during the class period, believed that light cigarettes were necessarily safer to smoke than regular cigarettes.

"Although I am sure that there are many Wisconsin residents who shared plaintiff's belief, it is doubtful that every Wisconsin resident who purchased Philip Morris's light cigarettes between 2003 and the present shared that belief."

The judge continued, "The need to make individualized inquiries into each class member's knowledge at the time of each purchase to identify those class members who were actually injured by Philip Morris' conduct prevents this case from being certified as a class action."

Adelman noted that "this problem permeates each of plaintiff's causes of action."

Philip Morris applauded the court's ruling Thursday, saying it "correctly recognized" that the class is not suitable for class certification.

"Federal courts have repeatedly refused to certify these cases because they raise a host of individual issues that must be litigated individually," said Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services senior vice president and associate general counsel.

Altria is Philip Morris' parent company.

Most other courts around the country also have decertified similar light cigarette classes.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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