IL Court Snuffs Light Cigarette Suit
Posted Aug 24, 2007 6:46 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
That appeared to be the message of the Illinois Supreme Court, when it issued a two-paragraph supervisory order yesterday directing a Madison County judge to drop efforts to reopen a light cigarettes class action that originally resulted in a $10.1 billion verdict, the largest ever in the state.
The court directed Madison County Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron to vacate his order certifying questions for an interlocutory appeal to an intermediate court, the Madison St. Clair Record reports.
Madison County Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron had dismissed the case against Philip Morris last year on the direction of the state high court, which ruled federal law regarding cigarette labeling pre-empted the suit. The class action had contended smokers suffered economic damages by paying more for light cigarettes because they were misled into believing they were less harmful.
Since the initial Illinois Supreme Court ruling, the plaintiffs’ attorney, Stephen Tillery, asked the Madison County judge to reopen the case, claiming that the federal government has since denied in a separate case that the Federal Trade Commission regulates labeling of light cigarettes. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled in that case that it was not appropriate to be heard in federal courts, rejecting an argument that federal regulation of Philip Morris merited removal.
Madison County is the controversial venue dubbed a “judicial hellhole” by tort reformers because of its plaintiff-friendly verdicts.
However, controversy followed the case into the state supreme court after disclosures that a group supporting Philip Morris in an amicus brief contributed more than $1 million to the election campaign of state Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, who cast a deciding vote in the tobacco company’s favor in the original ruling. Tillery donated more than $100,000 to groups opposing Karmeier's election, according to a 2005 story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Such donations are not illegal.
Philip Morris had asked the Supreme Court to issue the advisory order in a motion filed by former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson. "The circuit court has threatened to plunge [Philip Morris] once again into a lengthy and expensive litigation, which can result in only one conclusion: that the dismissal of plaintiffs' claims ordered by this court must stand," Thompson wrote in the motion.
Tillery told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he’s not sure if he’ll continue the fight. "Frankly, I don't know what to say," he said. "Obviously, we disagree with the court's conclusion. I haven't made up my mind what I'll do next."
Justices Charles Freeman and Thomas Kilbride dissented from the supervisory order. "The court's action today is entirely predictable because it quickly and quietly closes the book on a case that a majority of this court, I am sure, would rather forget," Freeman wrote in the dissent.