U.S. Supreme Court Allows Tobacco Verdicts From Florida To Stand

U.S. Supreme Court Allows Tobacco Verdicts From Florida To Stand

WASHINGTON, D.C. - (Mealey's)  The U.S. Supreme Court on March 26 let stand tens of millions of dollars in Florida state court compensatory and punitive damages verdicts against tobacco companies and set the stage for potentially thousands of additional trials (R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company v. Mathilde C. Martin, No. 11-754; Philip Morris USA, Inc., et al., v. Franklin D. Campbell, No. 11-741).

(Transcript available.)

The court denied certiorari to tobacco companies' claims that Florida state court procedures, which preclusively incorporate liability findings from the class action Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc. (945 So. 2d 1246 [Fla. 2006]), deny the companies' due process rights by relieving subsequent plaintiffs of the necessity of proving all elements of their claims.
11th Circuit

The companies had been unable to persuade the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to overturn Engle, although that court's interpretation of what evidence could be presented to juries as uncontroverted was less liberal than the opinions of two Florida appeals courts that took up the matter.

Florida's Fourth Appellate District Court, in affirming a $600,000 wrongful death tobacco verdict, complained about the Supreme Court's lack of precision regarding what plaintiffs did and did not have to prove (R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company v. Jimmie Lee Brown, et al., No. 4D09-2664, Fla. App. 4th Dist.; 2011 Fla. App. LEXIS 14936).

The Fourth District panel said the application of Engle findings was "still in its infancy."

The Engle class action lawsuit was originally filed against cigarette makers in 1994. The class was decertified after a $145 billion punitive damages verdict, but the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the individual cases could proceed and that the defendants could not dispute that nicotine is an addictive and causes potentially fatal diseases.

Despite that preclusive finding, the plaintiffs defending their verdicts before the U.S. Supreme Court argued that in the course of their trials, they had again proved the elements of their claims that the companies disputed. Approximately 8,000 Engle class members await trial, including 3,800 consolidated in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Mathilde Martin is represented by Robert Peck of the Center for Constitutional Litigation in Washington, Robert Loehr and Matt Schultz of Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor in Pensacola, Fla., and Stephen Turner of Broad & Cassel in Tallahassee, Fla.

Franklin D. Campbell is represented by Bard D. Rockenbach of Burlington & Rockenbach in West Palm Beach, Fla.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is represented by Gregory G. Katsas and Eric E. Murphy of Jones Day and Paul D. Clement of Bancroft, both in Washington.

Philip Morris is represented by Miguel A. Estrada and Amir C. Tayrani of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in Washington and Andrew L. Frey, Kenneth S. Geller, Lauren R. Goldman and Hannah Y.S. Chanoine of Mayer Brown in New York.

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