Minnesota Supreme Court derails tobacco lawsuit

The tobacco industry has had a tough time winning court cases in Minnesota in recent years. It won one today, however, when the Minnesota Supreme Court killed an 11-year-old lawsuit against Philip Morris that claimed the company fraudulently marketed Marlboro Lights as a safer cigarette.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals had resurrected the case in late 2010 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2008 cleared the way for class action suits against cigarette companies that manufacture “light” cigarettes. The Appeals Court said Philip Morris could be sued for false advertising, consumer fraud, and deceptive trade practices under Minnesota consumer-protection statutes.”

But today, the Minnesota Supreme Court said the suit, filed by a private party, can’t proceed because the 1998 tobacco trial settlement, negotiated between then Attorney General “Skip” Humphrey’s office and Philip Morris, precludes it

The group filing the suit claimed the tobacco company marketed the Marlboro Lights as safer than a typical cigarette. Memos uncovered during the Minnesota tobacco trial 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.

In a dissent to today’s ruling, Justice Alan Page argued the case should proceed because the false and deceptive advertising claims occurred after the 1998 settlement agreement.

Here’s the full decision.

Similar lawsuits were filed in several other states.

“The Minnesota Supreme Court now joins with 14 courts in 15 ‘lights’ cases which have rejected these claims on a variety of legal and factual grounds, Murray Garnick, Altria (Philip Morris’ parent company) senior vice president, said in a statement.

  • Robert Moffitt

    That’s too bad. The documentation that Philip Morris knew it was misleading its customers in Minnesota is pretty clear.

    Bob, you should visit the warehouse where they store the Big Tobacco paperwork. It has been a treasure trove for lawyers around the world who are taking on tobacco companies in the courts.

  • Jim Shapiro

    While perhaps SCJs – both on the state and federal levels – should continue to be appointed rather than elected, the mechanisms for recall should be simplified.

    They are, after all, essentially just lawyers. Only more arrogant.

  • Chad

    Story behind the story: how will this impact MN’s budget?

  • Bob Collins

    // Story behind the story: how will this impact MN’s budget?

    None. It doesn’t impact the tobacco settlement. Plus, the legislature last year sold off the endowment to plug the budget.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Zoids! Have I fallen into a Collinsworldian time hole, anticipating future Newscut topics?!?

  • Mark Gisleson

    Just curious. Why is it whenever I read a news account of any higher court decision, the news media NEVER lists which justices voted how, or who appointed these judges?

    It really does seem newsworthy, and without that information it’s all but impossible for regular folks to determine if a ruling is based on law or politics. (Given that several of our justices were appointed by Gov. Bridgefail, I’m guessing that this is very much a political decision.)

  • Bob Collins

    I ALWAYS provide a link to the full opinion. Whatever information I have is on the first page of the decision regarding various positions, though I don’t believe it lists a full vote.

    I could certainly begin listing who appointed the justice, although I suspect it will lead people to have a reaction to a decision along the lines of “Oh, well, what do you expect from a (fill in name of political party here)” rather than a read of the decision and an evaluation of whether the application of previous cases in reaching a decision was appropriate.

    The very best way for people to conclude whether a decision is based on law or politics is first to read the entire decision. I’d be curious how many people do that when I post them?

  • Mark Gisleson

    I read the decision, saw that it only listed one of the majority justices, both dissenters and noted that two justices did not vote.

    I thought about googling to see who the other justices were but then I remembered wasting half a day a year ago trying to find out who appointed who (thanks to paywalls, that information is MUCH harder to get than you would otherwise think).

    And my take would be the exact opposite of yours, Bob. Reading an opinion rarely explains anything to me, our system of law being based on prior law and heavy use of Latin. I find it much easier to look to see if the justices voted along party lines. If not, I assume the court came to a legitimate decision. But when the justices align along political lines, I assume it’s Republican judicial activism.

    Over the last thirty years the Republican party has moved right and has appointed extremist judges. The Democratic party has been mau-maued, and has appointed mostly centrist judges (when obstructionist Republicans actually allowed them to vote on their nominees). Given the recent history of our courts, I would expect reporters to look for the bias first if only to save time.

  • Bob Collins

    // The Democratic party has been mau-maued, and has appointed mostly centrist judges (when obstructionist Republicans actually allowed them to vote on their nominees).

    That’s going to be hard to quantify for Minnesota courts since the last governor to appoint someone to the Supreme Court was Rudy Perpich. He appointed a hall of fame class with people like Sandy Keith, Esther Tomjanovich, Sandy Gardebring and — I think — Rosalie Wahl.

    Pawlenty’s appointees tend not to stick around. Justice Meyer, a Ventura appointee, is leaving. Gildea is a Pawlehty appointee and it doesn’t seem like she’s going anywhere.

    It will be interesting to see what kid of mark Gov. Dayton makes on the Appeals Court and Supreme Court.