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Illinois Supreme Court sends Philip Morris back to Madison County

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Philip Morris is back in Madison County.

The lawsuit which resulted in a $10.1 billion verdict against cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris is expected to return to Madison County court after the Illinois Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to hear an appeal by Philip Morris that could have ended the case.

In 2003, then-Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron ruled that consumers were injured when Philip Morris advertised certain cigarettes as “light” and containing “lowered tar and nicotine.” At trial, plaintiffs’ attorney Stephen Tillery said the company knew Marlboro Lights were not safer and could be more damaging to smokers’ health than regular Marlboro Reds cigarettes.

The district court found, and the circuit court affirmed, that Philip Morris made “blatantly false” public statements about “light” cigarettes, “withheld and suppressed their extensive knowledge and understanding of nicotine-driven smoker compensation” and engaged in “highly sophisticated marketing and promotional campaigns to portray their light brands as less harmful than regular cigarettes.”

The case went to the Illinois Supreme Court after being in Madison County. The higher court reversed the circuit court’s judgment in 2005 on the grounds that Philip Morris’ use of the terms “lights” and “lowered tar and nicotine” were allowed by the Federal Trade Commission.

But in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the FTC had never authorized any cigarette-makers to use the terms “light” or “lowered tar and nicotine” in their advertising.

In that petition, Tillery argued the case should be reopened, because the FTC had explicitly denied allowing cigarette-manufacturers to make claims of certain cigarettes being less harmful than others.

Philip Morris convinced the trial court to dismiss Tillery’s appeal, claiming it was filed too late.

The Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court reversed the trial court in February, holding that the petition was filed on time and then instructing the trial judge to reopen the case and hear further evidence. Philip Morris asked the Illinois Supreme Court to reverse the Appellate Court. In its petition for leave to appeal, the company continued to argue the plaintiff’s petition was untimely.

In opposing Philip Morris’ petition, the plaintiff argued Philip Morris advanced an inaccurate version of the historical record which was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court and the FTC. Tillery also pointed out that the U.S. Department of Justice had “alleged that cigarette manufacturers (including Philip Morris) and tobacco-related trade organizations violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by engaging in a conspiracy to deceive the American public about, among other things, the purported health benefits from ‘light’ and ‘low tar.’

“The Illinois Supreme Court today issued a sound decision in Price vs. Philip Morris that we believe charts the way for the Circuit Court to hear arguments regarding whether these terms were ever authorized by the FTC,” Tillery said.

“The Supreme Court had an opportunity to review the appellate decision and found no reason to do so. After a long journey through the courts, we believe this decision moves the judgment a step closer toward a final confirmation for the 1.1 million Illinois consumers who were represented in the lawsuit.”

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