SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - (Mealey's) The Illinois Supreme Court on Sept. 28 declined to hear Philip Morris Inc.'s appeal of an intermediate appeals court ruling that reopens a case that resulted in a $10.1 billion verdict against the tobacco giant for claims that its "light" cigarettes were lower in tar and nicotine than regular cigarettes (Sharon Price, et al. v. Philip Morris Incorporated, No. 112067, Ill. Sup.).
Sharon Price and Michael Fruth filed a class action lawsuit against Philip Morris in the Madison County Circuit Court, alleging that they were harmed by deceptive advertising for light cigarettes. After a two-month trial in 2003, a jury awarded $10.1 billion in compensatory and punitive damages.
On direct appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court in 2005 reversed judgment, finding that the Federal Trade Commission authorized the use of "light, low or reduced" in cigarette descriptions. The case was dismissed by the trial court in 2006.
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a similar case that the FTC never authorized the use of "light, low, or reduced" for cigarettes. Price and Fruth petitioned the trial court for a new hearing, but the court dismissed the petition.
On Feb. 24, 2011, the Fifth District Illinois Appellate Court reversed the trial court's dismissal, rejecting Phillip Morris' argument that the appeal was untimely because it was not filed within two years of the Illinois Supreme Court's 2005 decision. The appeals court said the plaintiffs had two years after the trial court dismissed the case.
Philip Morris appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, arguing that the appeal was filed too late and that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling could not be applied to the Price/Fruth case.
The case now reverts to the Madison County Circuit Court.
The Koren Tillery law firm, representing the plaintiffs, said the state Supreme Court's decision "could signal the Court's willingness to reconsider its previous decision" in light of the U.S. Supreme Court case.
In a statement, Philip Morris said the state Supreme Court's decision "is purely procedural and not a decision on the merits." It said it will continue to argue to the trial court that state law prohibits the plaintiffs from reopening their case.
[Editor's Note: Full coverage will be in the October issue of Mealey's Litigation Report: Tobacco. For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.]
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