Illinois Supreme Court Decision Reversing Billion Dollar Class Action Award Against Tobacco Giant Now Final
The Philip Morris defense team secured victory in the Illinois class action involving the sale of “light” cigarettes today when the United States Supreme Court denied the petition for writ of certiorari filed plaintiffs’ attorneys. Price v. Philip Morris Inc., ___ U.S. ___, 2006 WL 2843774 (November 27, 2006). The class action originated in 2000, when plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit in Illinois state court alleging violations of the Consumer Fraud Act and the Deceptive Practices Act based on the packaging, marketing, promotion and sale of “light” cigarettes as having less tar and nicotine than “regular” cigarettes. Price v. Philip Morris Inc., 848 N.E.2d 1, 19-20 (Ill. 2005). Defense attorneys advanced 27 affirmative defenses to the class action complaint, including section 10b(1) of the Consumer Fraud Act, which provides a statutory exemption for conduct specifically authorized by a state or federal regulatory agency. Id., at 19. Ultimately, the trial court certified the lawsuit as a class action and entered judgment against Philip Morris in excess of $10 billion. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the judgment, finding that the action was barred by section 10b(1). Id., at 53-55. This holding was based on the Illinois Supreme Court’s conclusion that the Federal Trade Commission had “specifically authorized all United States tobacco companies to utilize the words ‘low,’ ‘lower,’ ‘reduced’ or like qualifying terms, such as ‘light,’ so long as the descriptive terms are accompanied by a clear and conspicuous disclosure of the ‘tar’ and nicotine content in milligrams of the smoke produced by the advertised cigarette.” Id., at 50.
The Illinois Supreme Court’s opinion was far from unanimous. Four separate opinions were filed: Justice Garman delivered the opinion of the court, Price, at 1 et seq.; Justice Karmeier filed a specially concurring opinion supporting reversal of the judgment for failure to prove actual damages rather than based on the statutory exemption of section 10b(1), id., at 55 et seq.; Justice Freeman filed a dissenting opinion, id., at 60 et seq.; and Justice Kilbride filed a dissenting opinion, id., at 84 et seq. A petition for rehearing was denied in May 2006, with Justices Freeman and Kilbride dissenting. By denying the petition for writ of certiorari, the United States Supreme Court brought finality to the judgment in favor of Philip Morris.