Class-action suit against Philip Morris decertified

Published: Thursday, January 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 31, 2003 at 11:37 p.m.
WEST PALM BEACH - A trial court was wrong to certify a lawsuit against Philip Morris USA Inc. as class action just because the smokers involved used light cigarettes, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The 4th District Court of Appeals said in an opinion that Philip Morris was correct in arguing that there may be too many differences among plaintiffs to certify the lawsuit as class-action. It decertified the lawsuit.
Plaintiffs John Hines and Delores Howell charged in their lawsuit that Marlboro Lights and Ultra Lights cigarettes were labeled as having less tar and nicotine, even though Philip Morris allegedly used an unreliable method to measure the content of those additives. They claimed that was deceptive and against Florida law. They asked for class-action status among all current and former smokers of those brands in Florida from 1971 to the present.
A trial court agreed, but on "unsuitable" grounds, the appeals court ruled.
"This decision in the Hines case is consistent with those of many other state and federal courts over the past several years that have decided tobacco cases simply involve too many individual issues to be tried as class actions," said William S. Ohlemeyer, a vice president for Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris, the top U.S. cigarette maker.
Stephen Sheller, a lawyer for plaintiffs John Hines and Delores Howell, called the ruling "disturbing." He said the ruling discusses light cigarettes but failed to specifically consider Marlboro Lights.
"We've tried to do the right thing for public health and the courts seem to be more interested in protecting the tobacco industry than public health," Sheller said.
Gary Farmer, another plaintiff's attorney, was traveling and unavailable for comment Wednesday.

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