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CONCORD, N.H. -- The New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled that a trial court abused its discretion in certifying a class of smokers seeking refunds from Philip Morris USA for the "light" cigarettes they smoked.
"The court recognized correctly that there are too many individual issues for this case to be treated as a class action," said Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services senior vice president and associate general counsel. The Altria Group is the parent company of PM USA. "This court joins 15 courts which have rejected these cases on a variety of legal and factual grounds."
In denying the class certification, the court said the state cannot assume all the smokers were unaware that light cigarettes are as dangerous as regular cigarettes. Specifically, in the 3-0 ruling yesterday the court stated that "between 1976 and 1995, substantial information was available to consumers concerning the fact that light cigarettes are as harmful to smokers as regular cigarettes." As a result, the New Hampshire Supreme Court held that "the trial court unsustainably exercised its discretion when it ruled that issues related to individual class members' injuries could be resolved by common evidence and that common issues would predominate," according to an Altria release.
The ruling overturns a 2010 order by Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler, the Concord Monitor reported. Chief Justice Linda Dalianis wrote the eight-page decision, with Justices Carol Ann Conboy and Gary Hicks concurring on the ruling. Justice Robert Lynn recused himself. Justice James Bassett was sworn in last month, more than a month after the June 7 oral arguments, and didn't participate in the decision, the report added.
Earlier this year, the Minnesota Supreme Court also ended a "Lights" class action against PM USA. In that case, the court determined that the claim was prevented by the Tobacco Settlement Agreement signed in 1998. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now prohibits the use of Lights and other descriptors unless a manufacturer receives authorization to use the terms. The FDA began regulating tobacco products in 2009 with the passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.