Scales Are Tipped

Ore. court denies class action in lights case

PORTLAND, Ore. -- An Oregon court declined to grant class-action status to a lawsuit brought by a group of Marlboro Lights smokers against Philip Morris USA, citing the large number of individual issues that would need to be considered in the case, said the Associated Press.

The case, filed by Marilyn Pearson and Laura Grandin, alleged PM USA, a unit of Altria Group Inc., violated state laws by misleading smokers into believing Marlboro Lights delivered less tar and nicotine than full-tar cigarettes when the company knew the cigarettes did not.

In her opinion late last week, Judge Janice Wilson of the Circuit Court for the County of Multnomah said, "In my view the scales are tipped by the fact that not only do the individual issues predominate over the common ones, they do so overwhelmingly." As a result, the case does not meet the qualifications for class certification, Wilson said.

According to Wilson, the evidence presented to the court showed smokers may receive different amounts of tar and nicotine from different cigarettes in the same pack, depending upon a number of variables. As a result, the judge concluded each member of the class would need to prove whether the Marlboro Lights he or she smoked delivered lowered tar and nicotine.

Jim Coon, an attorney at Swanson Thomas & Coon, who is representing the plaintiffs, said he was disappointed in the court's decision and would look to appeal the ruling. "We believe the plaintiffs were affected in the same way," he said. He explained, the group purchased the cigarettes expecting that the cigarettes were inherently lower in tar and nicotine, not possibly lower in these substances.

The case in Oregon is similar to a number of other lawsuits filed in courts around the country. So far, the record for these cases has been mixed, with some courts granting class status to lawsuits and others rejecting it.

To date, only one "lights" cigarette case has been tried, a case known as Price, which is currently on appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court. In that case, a trial court judge handed down a $10.1 billion verdict against PM USA.

In response to the Oregon court's decision, William Ohlemeyer, PM USA vice president and associate general counsel, said, "The court in its opinion stated, as [PM USA] has asserted in its lights cases, 'the common questions of fact do not predominate over the questions affecting only individual members.' "

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