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Dec 2008
December 18, 2008

Supreme Court’s Light Cigarettes Ruling 'Surprising'

The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Altria Group v. Good on December 15, holding 5-4 that a state court lawsuit alleging fraudulent advertising of "light" cigarettes' health benefits could proceed against Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris. Altria had argued that the lawsuit was pre-empted by the federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act.

The decision was surprising, according to John Bursch, chair of Warner Norcross & Judd's Appellate Practice Group, given that the Court has recently ruled in favor of the business community in several pre-emption cases. This time, Justice Kennedy changed position and, along with Justices Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, joined Justice Stevens' majority opinion.

Justice Stevens wrote that the federal Act does not pre-empt state authority to regulate deceptive advertising, but rather pre-empts only state requirements for additional warning labels. Bursch said it remains to be seen whether this ruling will have any impact on Wyeth v. Levine, the other significant preemption case that the Court will decide this term.

Wyeth asks the Court whether federal law pre-empts a state law personal injury action based on a drug label that met FDA labeling requirements.

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