December 15, 2008

Federal laws about cigarette labels don't preempt state fraud claims, the Supreme Court says in the case about the lightness of "light" cigarettes.

The case -- Altria Group, Inc. v. Good -- was just announced. It's 5-4, with the majority opinion written by Justice Stevens and the dissenting opinion written by Justice Thomas. There's no need to spell out the rest of the 5 and 4. If you care enough to want to know, you already know.

I'll have something on the opinions soon.

ADDED: Following the plurality opinion in a 1992 case (Cipollone), the majority said that preemption by the labeling law depended on whether the state law claim was predicated on a "requirement or prohibition based on smoking and health … with respect to … advertising or promotion." And the fraud claims are premised on a duty not to deceive. The dissenters didn't see a basis for distinguishing fraud claims from the failure-to-warn claims that Cipollone said were preempted and wanted "to look at the factual basis of a complaint to determine if a claim imposes a requirement based on smoking and health."

This is one of those cases where state law is preserved, yet no one extols the values of federalism. No one even says the word "federalism," as the liberal Justices decide in favor state power, and the conservative Justices worry about "non-uniformity." The tort plaintiffs will be able to go forward with their case, and the cigarette companies must take their lumps.

22 comments:

Jim said...

Who is "Good et al"? Is this a coincidence or a purposeful contrast?, i.e. find some guy named Good to be a party to the suit to make a cute case name.

VillageIdiot said...

Is disinterest in politics a moral failing? Having done an admittedly perfunctory google (the effort we've all got to do these days before you ask a question lest you annoy - which is perfectly fair), and having found nothing much, I submit this question for the Professor (if my question is poorly inserted here, sorry it has nothing to do with the case except in the most general sense): if you don't much care for politics, is that a moral failing, or a simple predilection? Is it bad, or is it like a preference for, say, cream cheese over butter? My instinctive approach is to say that if you don't much care, then you're not in a position to much care - your job is somewhat insulated from the public adult world. How you got there is another question. But I'd say that some people seem to show early signs of loving politics, and others of not much caring about politics (chicken or egg prob). In the middle (for my purposes) are those who know they don't much care, but feel they ought to care, and regard keeping up with affairs as a chore. I'm one of those. Can the politically apathetic succeed in life?

American Liberal Elite said...

Conservative jurists love federalism, except when they don't.

Justin said...

American Liberal Elite said...

Conservative jurists love federalism, except when they don't.

The tautology strikes again!

knox said...

I don't smoke anymore but I think the whole smoking issue deserves a big get your damned dirty paws off my cigarettes!

EDH said...

I'm starting to lean against premption. The advertising claims were outside the four-corners of the madated S.G.'s warning, and go to the issues of additional inducement and proper method of use.

Nevertheless, there was a time when smokers and lawyers accepted more personal responsibilty for the outcome of their actions, even when it was just pretend.

Freder Frederson said...

Nevertheless, there was a time when smokers and lawyers accepted more personal responsibilty for the outcome of their actions

Gee, how about corporations accepting responsibility for the outcome of their actions? "Light" and "low tar" cigarettes are no safer than any other cigarette. The tobacco companies apparently knew this fact, yet they spent years advertising these cigarettes as a safer alternative.

chickenlittle said...

Light" and "low tar" cigarettes are no safer than any other cigarette.

Oh come on Freder. People who switch to Marlboro Lights are obviously concerned about their health.

Ann Althouse said...

"except when they don't."

Slate had a big article about the use of that rhetorical device by the NYT.

Ann Althouse said...

"Oh come on Freder. People who switch to Marlboro Lights are obviously concerned about their health."

The companies have known for years and years that people compensate by smoking light cigarettes longer and harder.

As for who should be responsible, it's state tort law unless Congress preempts it.

And what difference does it make? If the cigarette companies pay big verdicts, they pass the costs on to the customers, who might smoke less if the cigarettes get more expensive.

Joe said...

When are the courts going to declare that anyone who smokes is too damn stupid to make a claim? Anyone after 1900 who claims that they didn't know smoking was bad is beyond dumb.

And if they're going after fraud, start with all the idiot health commercials on TV (especially the penis enlargement ads. Though the one where you put tape on your feet and it detoxifies you is so dumb, it's funny.)

Joe said...

By the way, is there an actual factual problem; do "light" cigarettes have lower tar content or don't they? Any other issue should be irrelevant.

Justin said...

Joe said...
By the way, is there an actual factual problem; do "light" cigarettes have lower tar content or don't they? Any other issue should be irrelevant.


An exceedingly unsophisticated view of the issue. Essentially, the claim is that the cigarette companies engaged in deceptive marketing practices in connection with the sale of light cigarettes. In other words, they lied.
If you examine the statute, it doesn't focus on whether the purchaser relied on the cigarette companies' misrepresentations, and in that way, the cause of action is very different from fraud. It has nothing to do with whether or not the person knew that cigarettes were bad for them.

Justin said...

And just for the record, I disagree with the Court's decision in this case, and think that Cipollone was wrongly decided. It places a bullshit gloss on what's otherwise a relatively straightforward statute. My only point is this: avoid broad, dismissive generalizations if you don't understand the underlying issue.

br549 said...

As one who now sports one lung instead of two, quit if you smoke.
My cancer was found by accident, looking for something else. Removing it prolonged, but will not save my life.

Quit.

hawkeyedjb said...

I used to smoke cigarettes, but they're no fun anymore. Once they were an innocent pleasure, then a guilty habit. Now they're a transfer mechanism that moves money from tobacco companies to lawyers, so I don't want to play. When Scotch becomes the target of opportunity, I'll quit drinking.

Eric said...

I thought the settlement with state attorneys general preempted this kind of tort. So that just covered medicaid claims?

It may be that people who smoke light cigarettes compensate by smoking more. It should be obvious to the smokers that's not the way to health - people probably compensate for light brownies by eating ten, but they know they're not going to lose weight.

chickenlittle said...

Oh come on Freder. People who switch to Marlboro Lights are obviously concerned about their health.

I guess I should have put one of those little smiley-doodles after my comment. :)

It should be obvious to the smokers that's not the way to health.

That's exactly right.

Simon said...

American Liberal Elite said...
"Conservative jurists love federalism, except when they don't."

Our Federalism isn't a synonym for states' rights. It doesn't mean always siding with the states against the feds.

UNRR said...

"When are the courts going to declare that anyone who smokes is too damn stupid to make a claim? Anyone after 1900 who claims that they didn't know smoking was bad is beyond dumb."

That would involve way too much commonsense. We can't let logic get in the way of extorting money out of big tobacco.

Freeman Hunt said...

I've never heard of anyone smoking lights for health purposes. Smoking lights is a flavor preference.

Methadras said...

What happened to the notion that you should use products at your own risk? If the product fails due to a design/engineering oversight and it cause death/damage to life, limb, or property, then you the recourse of seeking justice/renumeration. The cost of litigation and those who are willing to litigate is a driving force behind the essential infantilizing of the American public towards the products they use. Particularly in the case of cigarettes. Doesn't anyone by now not know they aren't good for you and even still besides that, what if someone things they are beneficial for them and yet they have a warning label that tells them it isn't. The whole thing is is stupid.

Swear to God. I bought an Iron from Costco. Got it home, opened it up and the first thing I pulled out was a warning label saying to be careful because the iron when turned on is or can get hot and not to touch certain surfaces. Well no shit? Really? I had no idea and how much to the overall cost of that Iron did this bit of lawyerly ass covering cost? Maybe a dollar? But that still isn't the point now is it?