Minn. SC shoots down lawsuit over light cigarettes

By John O'Brien | May 30, 2012


MINNEAPOLIS (Legal Newsline) - The Minnesota Supreme Court has become the latest court to reject a class action lawsuit over light cigarettes.

In a 3-2 decision, the court ruled Wednesday that consumer protection claims against Philip Morris USA were barred by a 1998 settlement between the tobacco industry and then-state Attorney General Hubert H. Humphrey III. Minnesota is the 14th court out of 15 to reject the light cigarette claims, according to Philip Morris.

Forty-six states settled with the tobacco industry in 1998, though Minnesota and three other states reached their own separate, similar agreements. The lead plaintiff on the light cigarette class action, filed in 2001, is Gregory Curtis.

"In relation to the State lawsuit, the Curtis lawsuit's... consumer protection claims assert violation of the same consumer protection statutes arising from the same fraudulent and deceptive misrepresentations regarding the health risks associated with the use and exposure to light cigarettes," Justice Christopher Dietzen wrote for the majority.

Representing the plaintiffs were Lommen, Abdo, Cole, King & Stageberg in Minneapolis; and Sheller, P.C., of Cook, Minn., and Philadelphia.

In October, a mistrial was ordered in a similar case in St. Louis, a month after the Illinois Supreme Court declined review of a lower court ruling in favor of Philip Morris.

Attorney Stephen Tillery is still fighting the dismissal of the Illinois lawsuit, which once earned a $10.1 billion award from now-retired Madison County Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron.

Tobacco companies were accused of misleading consumers by advertising light cigarettes as a safer alternative to regular cigarettes.

The Minnesota lawsuit was filed on behalf of smokers worldwide who purchased Marlboro Lights in Minnesota between 1971-2004.

Justices Lorie Skjerven Gildea and Barry Anderson joined Dietzen in the majority, while justices Davis Stras and Helen Meyer did not take part in the decision.

Justice Alan Page dissented and authored an opinion, in which Justice Paul Anderson joined.

"The 'future conduct' clause of the 1998 settlement agreement applies only to monetary claims directly or indirectly based on, arising out of or in any way related to, in whole or in part, the use of or exposure to tobacco products,'" Page wrote.

"Curtis' consumer protection claims are predicated on the allegation that Philip Morris' use of the words 'light' and 'lowered tar and nicotine' in its advertising and promotion of its cigarettes was deceptive and false. Such claims do not relate either generally to the use of tobacco or specifically to Curtis' use of tobacco and therefore are not released by the terms of the 1998 settlement agreement."

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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