Justices uphold ruling over tobacco lawsuits
HELENA (AP) - Individual smokers are not entitled to tap into Montana's tobacco settlement money, the state Supreme Court has ruled in upholding a lower court's decision.
The case arose after a Manhattan woman sued the state in 1997, arguing that certain victims of tobacco-related diseases deserve a share of the payments Montana gets as part of a multistate settlement with tobacco companies.
Montana, one of many states involved in the settlement, is scheduled to receive nearly a billion dollars from the industry over the years of its term.
Darlene Robinson said she should be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses for treating her husband Donald's tobacco-related illnesses until he died in 1994.
But the court said Friday that state law, coupled with language in the settlement, precludes individuals from getting a portion of the money.
"The tobacco lawsuit settlement was not intended to confer rights on third parties such as Robinson," Justice William Leaphart wrote for the majority opinion.
He was joined by Chief Justice Karla Gray and justices James Nelson, Patricia Cotter, Jim Regnier and Jim Rice.
Only Justice Terry Trieweiler disagreed.
The high court said District Judge Thomas Honzel correctly concluded that the state's complaint against the tobacco industry was not filed on behalf of the Robinsons, or any Medicaid recipients, and therefore she was not entitled to a share of it.
About two dozen similar suits have been filed across the country, where Medicaid recipients were claiming a share of the tobacco settlement. None of the cases has been successful, Montana's Supreme Court said.
Trieweiler said he agrees with the result of the majority opinion but said the opinion is based on an incorrect reading of state law.