- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2007

The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to consider whether tobacco companies can be protected from state court judgments since cigarettes are regulated by the federal government.

In one of four appeals accepted yesterday, justices had been asked to decide whether lawsuits that accuse cigarette-makers of wrongdoing can be shifted out of state court and into federal court, under a special provision.

That’s what happened in Arkansas, where Philip Morris was sued in a class-action case claiming that the company violated state law in marketing its “light” cigarettes. The suit said the cigarettes were more dangerous than the company advertised. Tobacco companies have faced similar suits across the country.

The suit covered people who used Marlboro Lights and Cambridge Lights.

The tobacco company sought to have the case moved into federal court under a “federal officer” provision that allows suits against federal officials to be kept out of state courts.

Federal courts are more desirable to corporations facing lawsuits, partly because state juries in some parts of the country are considered more likely to return large damage awards.

The company contends that its marketing of cigarettes under the regulation of the Federal Trade Commission made it a “person acting under” a federal officer.

Philip Morris lawyers said the FTC “exercised unprecedented detailed and direct control” over items such as cigarette advertising.

David Frederick, the Washington attorney representing those who sued, said the decision would hurt state authority to ensure its citizens are protected under its own laws.

“FTC regulation of light cigarettes is anything but extraordinary,” Mr. Frederick wrote.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the FTC has exercised comprehensive control over Philip Morris’s advertising, a conclusion that the Bush administration called “incorrect.”

Yet the administration said the case does not merit Supreme Court review, that the decision’s impact is “entirely unclear” and that the more appropriate course would be to allow the issue to play out in the lower courts.

Philip Morris USA Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Altria Group Inc., which was formerly Philip Morris Companies Inc.

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