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Cleary v. Philip Morris

September 8, 2009

BRIAN CLEARY AND RITA BURKE, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
PHILIP MORRIS, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Brian Cleary and Rita Burke, representing a putative class, have sued several tobacco companies and tobacco-related entities. This case was filed in state court in 1998. Defendant Lorillard Tobacco Co. removed it to this Court after plaintiffs filed a third amended complaint on March 3, 2009. In their third amended complaint, plaintiffs make several claims against the defendants on behalf of Illinois residents. Among other claims, plaintiffs allege that defendants deceptively marketed "low tar," "light," and "ultra light" cigarettes as being safer than regular cigarettes, although they were equally dangerous. Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings with respect to these claims on the ground that they are time-barred. For the following reasons, the Court grants the motion as to the defendants other than Philip Morris but defers ruling as to Philip Morris.

Background

Plaintiffs first asserted light cigarettes-based claims in their first amended complaint, which they filed in state court on January 19, 2000. In it, plaintiffs requested certification of a separate class of plaintiffs-Illinois residents who purchased and smoked Marlboro Lights, manufactured by defendant Philip Morris. Plaintiffs alleged that Philip Morris marketed Marlboro Lights cigarettes as safer than regular cigarettes even though they were just as dangerous.

In November 2001, plaintiffs withdrew their Marlboro Lights-based claims. In a memorandum they filed in state court, plaintiffs said that those claims "are no longer before the Court . . . Another circuit court certified the class on February 1, 2001. Miles v. Philip Morris, Inc., No. 00-L0112 (Ill. Cir. Ct. Madison Cty.)." Pls.' Factual Mem. (filed Nov. 26, 2001). In essence, the plaintiffs advised the state court that because of the other pending class action, they were in this case no longer were proceeding with their light cigarettes-based claims against Philip Morris.

Philip Morris moved to strike portions of plaintiffs' amended complaint that referred to the Marlboro Lights-based claims. In response, plaintiffs did not oppose the striking of the claims; they again said the claims were no longer before the Court "because another circuit court certified that class on February 1, 2001." Pls.' Mem. In Opp. To Def.'s Mot. to Strike ¶ 1. Plaintiffs opposed, however, the striking of certain factual allegations. The state court granted Philip Morris' motion to strike and dismissed plaintiffs' Marlboro Lights-based claims with prejudice. The Court stayed the order, however, pending a ruling on plaintiffs' motion for leave to file a second amended complaint. Plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint on April 5, 2005. That complaint contained no light cigarettes claim.

In 2006, the Illinois Supreme Court dismissed the Madison County class action. Price v. Philip Morris, Inc., 219 Ill. 2d 182, 273-74, 848 N.E.2d 1, 54-55 (2006). The court held that claims arising out of tobacco companies' concealment of the true nature of light cigarettes under the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act failed because the Act exempts from liability "conduct in compliance with orders" of a federal agency. Id. Concluding that the defendants were authorized by FTC practice and consent orders in their marketing of light cigarettes, the court ruled that plaintiffs' claims were barred. Id.

On December 15, 2008, the United States Supreme Court held that neither the Federal Labeling Act nor the FTC's decisions regarding the advertising of low tar or light cigarettes preempt state-law claims predicated on a duty not to deceive. Altria Group, Inc. v. Good, 129 S.Ct. 538 (2008). Plaintiffs contend this represents a significant change in the law as compared with the Illinois Supreme Court's Price decision. Shortly after the decision in Altria, plaintiffs moved the state court for leave to file a third amended complaint, a motion the court granted. This complaint reasserted the light cigarettes claims from the first amended complaint and expanded the claims to encompass other defendants in addition to Philip Morris. The third amended complaint also alleged wrongdoing with respect to all low tar, light, and ultra light cigarette brands, not just Marlboro Lights.

On March 13, 2009, Lorillard removed the case to this Court pursuant to the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b). Lorillard's removal of the case was premised on the proposition that the inclusion of the light cigarettes-based claims amounted to the filing of a new action under CAFA. Otherwise, the case would not have been removable. Plaintiffs then moved to remand the case to state court. This Court concluded that the light cigarette claims against Lorillard did not relate back to the plaintiffs' first amended complaint because that complaint mentioned only Marlboro Lights, a Philip Morris product. As a result, the third amended complaint was, in fact, a new action under CAFA. See Order of May 4, 2009. In a later ruling, the Court dismissed the light cigarettes claims against Lorillard as time-barred, based on the same relation-back determination. The Court declined, however, to remand the case, for reasons described in the ruling. See Order of July 1, 2009.

Defendants Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, American Tobacco Company, Inc., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, and Liggett & Myers, Inc. have now moved the Court for judgment on the pleadings on Count 3 of the third amended complaint, which contains the light cigarettes claims against them.

Discussion

On a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court "accept[s] the allegations in the complaint as true and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in favor of [the nonmoving party]." Iowa Physicians' Clinic Med. Found. v. Physicians Ins. Co. of Wisc., 547 F.3d 810, 811 (7th Cir. 2008).

Plaintiffs concede that the light cigarettes claims against all defendants except Philip Morris are time-barred. As a result, the only issues before the Court are whether the light cigarettes claims against Philip Morris are timely and, if so, whether plaintiffs may ...


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