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M&R Prevails In First Circuit Court Of Appeals In “Lights” Class Action Against Philip Morris

Boston, Massachusetts. August 31, 2007. On Friday, August 31, 2007, the First Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a class action lawsuit brought by Maine residents against Philip Morris by unanimously rejecting Philip Morris’ argument that the claims were preempted by federal law. The case challenges the cigarette company’s representations that certain brands of its cigarettes are “light” or have “lowered tar and nicotine,” alleging that Philip Morris, USA, Inc., and its parent company, Altria Group, Inc., violated Maine Unfair Trade Practices laws by engaging in unfair and deceptive acts or practices. The plaintiffs allege that the so-called “light” cigarettes are deceptively designed and marketed to the public, and that a smoker consumes the same quantities of tar and nicotine from light cigarettes as from full-flavored, or “regular,” ones.
In this case, and in other cases around the country, Philip Morris challenged the claims on the ground that the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act and the FTC’s actions preempted state law claims brought under consumer protection statutes, essentially arguing that only branches of the federal government could bring actions against the tobacco companies for deception. While the Maine district court dismissed the class action suit on this basis in May 2006, Judge Jeffrey R. Howard, who wrote the unanimous opinion, said that Philip Morris’ arguments were “unavailing.”
In his 68 page opinion, Judge Howard also noted that despite Philip Morris’ contention that there was a coherent federal policy that barred state law, low-tar claims, this was expressly contradicted by a Supreme Court filing by the United States Solicitor General in 2006, which stated that the FTC “has never promulgated definitions of terms such as ‘light’ and ‘low tar’ and that its previous statements purporting to define them ‘did not reflect an official regulatory position.’”
Gerard V. Mantese, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, commented,“the Court of Appeals categorically rejected Philip Morris’ assertion that cigarette companies have an immunity for fraud,” adding, “we now look forward to presenting the merits of this case to a Maine jury.”
Mr. Mantese’s firm, Mantese and Honigman P.C., is also representing plaintiffs in “lights” class actions currently pending in Arkansas and New Mexico.
August 31, 2007 First Circuit Opinion:  Good v. Altria Group, Inc., __ F.3d. __ (1st Cir. 2007)