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The Michigan Supreme Court expressed reluctance Tuesday in deciding whether Wayne County can sue tobacco companies after the state already settled with cigarette-makers.
The seven justices, meeting at Wayne State University Law School, are considering the question posed to them by U.S. District Judge Paul D. Borman, who oversees the county's lawsuit against New York-based Philip Morris Cos. Inc. and other tobacco companies. The county contends the attorney general's settlement didn't apply to it, and seeks to recoup money it spent on health care for smokers.
In 1998, Michigan settled a similar legal claim for $8.5 billion, to be paid over 25 years. Forty-five other states and the District of Columbia also settled. Borman has put the county's case on hold so the state's highest court can answer whether the attorney general has the authority to make deals that bind all 83 Michigan counties.
"What [Borman] is asking us to do is leap into this difficult area with an inadequately developed record," said Chief Justice Maura D. Corrigan. She noted that the facts of the county's lawsuit and other matters for Borman are undecided as the state Supreme Court wrestles with how -- and whether -- to answer Borman's question.
Justice Clifford W. Taylor was more blunt: "Are we introducing a regime of sheer pandemonium" by allowing the county to sue, he asked. Taylor was concerned that such a move could create a "parade of horribles" in which counties and municipalities could revisit other regulatory settlements negotiated by the state.
Rob Carey, who argued the case for the county, said the state settlement has not been used to reimburse the county for its financial losses.