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Second Circuit Court of Appeals Reverses District Court Order Certifying Class Action Against Tobacco Companies In “Light” Cigarettes Case Holding that Individual Proof of Reliance on Defendants’ Marketing Precluded Class Action Treatment

Chad Bray and Anjali Cordeiro of The Wall Street Journal report today on the Second Circuit ruling that reverses class action certification in a tobacco lights case. (Our news report may be found here, and our summary of the Second Circuit opinion may be found here.) Noting that the class action sought “$280 billion in damages, which could be tripled to more than $800 billion if the smokers’ federal racketeering claims are granted,” the Circuit Court concluded that “difference[s] in plaintiffs’ knowledge and levels of awareness made it difficult to establish a common reliance by the entire class of smokers on the cigarette maker’s marketing.” The lower court had agreed with plaintiffs that the tobacco company defendants had misled the public into believing that “light” cigarettes were less harmful than regular cigarettes, but the Court of Appeals agreed with defense attorneys that individual issues predominate over common issues. The Wall Street Journal summarizes the defense claim that “the issues were so individualized for each brand or each smoker’s own circumstances that the case couldn’t be effectively grouped in such a class.” The article also quotes from the Circuit Court opinion, “Each plaintiff in this case could have elected to purchase light cigarettes for any number of reasons, including a preference for the taste and a feeling that smoking lights was ‘cool.'”

The article, entitled “Tobacco Firms Score Victory As Class-Action Suit is Denied,” may be found on page B3 of the April 4, 2008 edition of The Wall Street Journal.