Big tobacco case reinstated in Minnesota

The Minnesota Court of Appeals today reinstated portions of a nearly 10-year-old, class action lawsuit against Philip Morris that claims the company fraudulently marketed Marlboro Lights as a safer cigarette.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2008 cleared the way for class action suits against cigarette companies that manufacture “light” cigarettes. The surprising 5-4 decision paved the way for the state actions. Since then, there have been numerous lawsuits filed around the country with mixed results. Class action suits have been certified in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Missouri. Judges in eight other states have rejected attempts to certify similar classes, according to the Concord (NH) Monitor . A judge in New Hampshire last month certified a similar lawsuit as a class action, in what could be the largest case in that state’s history.

In Minnesota, however, the Court of Appeals ruled the suit cannot proceed against Philip Morris’ owner, Altria. It said the two are different corporations. However the court reversed an October 2009 district court ruling that threw out the claims that Philip Morris “could not be sued for false advertising, consumer fraud, and deceptive trade practices regarding light cigarettes in violation of Minnesota consumer-protection statutes.”

The group filing the suit claims the tobacco company marketed the Marlboro Lights as safer than a typical cigarette. Memos uncovered during the Minnesota tobacco litigation in the ’90s revealed the company knew the claim to be false. The memos acknowledged that consumers who smoked “low tar” or “light” cigarettes, took longer “drags” on them, negating any benefit.

The lower court had also ruled that the settlement negotiated between then Attorney General “Skip” Humphrey’s office and Philip Morris barred the lawsuit. The Court of Appeals today reversed that ruling.

“The Tobacco Settlement does not provide any remedy for individual consumers who claimed to have been injured by Philip Morris’s violation of consumer-protection laws,” the court said in rejecting the tobacco company’s claims (See the entire opinion)

“Now that this important consumer-protection lawsuit can proceed, I look forward to it going to the trial in the near future,” Edward Sweda, the senior attorney for the Tobacco Products Litigation project said.

  • Bob Moffitt

    Big Tobacco just can’t win in Minnesota. Another reason to like living here.

  • GregS

    NewsCuts covers a “Lawyer chases money”.

    What next? Man bites dog.

    By the way, if the court wanted to do something useful, maybe it could unseal Mike Ciresi’s billing records. It would be really keen to know just how much of the taxpayers money Mike stuffed in his pockets.

  • Bob Collins

    I presume you meant “big tobacco’s money” because if I understand your first sentence right, the taxpayer had no claim to the industry’s money in the first place.

  • Bob Moffitt

    Oh, snap!

  • GregS

    “I presume you meant “big tobacco’s money – Bob”

    Big tobacco? What’s that? Is there such a thing as small tobacco or is BIG just a term the media uses to signal their well trained audience that the next word is to be despised?

    As for the tobacco suit, the State of Minnesota and Blue Cross claimed they suffered economic loses due to tobacco use. They sued the tobacco companies to recover their losses.

    My issue is that the DFL’s Mike Ciresi fangled an illegal no-bid contract to do the job then pocketed $1 Billion or so of the taxpayers money….

    No one knows how much because Mike had the courts seal his billing records.

    So when is someone going to sue BIG LAW to recover our money? You can bet it will not be the DFL, they have already spent Mike’s kick-backs. Oh sorry, he didn’t kick-back, he just lavished left-of-center non-profits with taxpayers funds.

  • Bob Collins

    The Washington Post reported the legal team’s fees (plantiffs) were $427 million.

    The settlement called for re than $6 billion over the first 25 years and about $200 million annually thereafter, forever.

    I don’t know know offhand what percentage that works out to nor what would be a standard percentage legal fee for such a deal.

  • GregS

    If I am not mistaken, the billing records are sealed. How then could The Washington Post come up with a credible number?

  • GregS

    Apparently, the compensation numbers are all over the board. LegalNut has it at $550 million.

    So why the BIG in BIG tobacco? Is there a small tobacco?

    Seriously, where do bizarre things like the BIG in “big tobacco” come from? Doesn’t anyone question these things?

  • Bob Collins

    I would put YTC under “small” tobacco (they’ve been involved in a lawsuit or two). I would put North Atlantic Cigarette Co. under “small.”

    I would put Philip Morris, R. J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard under “big.”

  • GregS

    Wait a minute. Is someone suggesting that people do not die from smoking the product of small tobacco companies?

    Or are they suggesting that lawyers do not get rich by suing them?

    Bob, why use the loaded term “BIG Tobacco”? Would you refer to anything coming out of the State of Minnesota as coming from BIG Government?

    Or would you only use Big Government to refer to the Feds?

    Shouldn’t the Stylebook say something about using loaded terms?

  • GregS

    In the future, instead of referring to BIG Tobacco to distinguish between suable and unsuable corporations, why not just use the more accurate term Suable Tobacco?

  • Bob Collins

    All of the companies I listed have been sued at one time or another.

  • GregS


    I have a great idea for MPR to push. Something that will truly benefit the community and people in need.

    Now you know and I know that the “victims” rarely see a dime when Big Law launches a class-action lawsuit. Why not start a media campaign to promote legislation to fund Public Defenders with 70% of the proceeds of all class-action lawsuits where it is clear that the “victims” cannot be readily identified and compensated?

  • Bob Collins

    Good idea, perhaps. A topic for another day as that doesn’t describe the tobacco settlement, which had tangible benefits and steered the bulk of the money to the taxpayers/BCBS.

    This one is a little trickier because many of the victims in this particular case are dead.

    In fact, it would’ve been very interesting had the judge allowed Big Tobacco’s defense that since cigarette smokers die younger, they don’t cost the state any more than healthy people who live long and need health care for non-tobacco-related maladies.

  • Tim

    Sounds like GregS works for the tobacco companies. It appears he is desperately trying to sidetrack the underlying issue, death of individuals from smoking and cost to the state, with any number of things he can think of. Shut it, GregS, you’re a moron and your bias is completely transparent.