Ruling may kill tobacco lawsuit (MI)
LANSING -- The Michigan Supreme Court dealt Wayne County a major setback Thursday in its attempt to sue tobacco companies, ruling that the state already negotiated a deal that applies to the county, too.
The unanimous decision could lead to the dismissal of a federal lawsuit seen by some as an effort by Wayne County officials to ensure more of the state's $8.9 billion settlement for itself.
The high court clarified for a federal judge the previously unsettled issue of whether state Atty. Gen. Jennifer Granholm can negotiate on behalf of all 83 counties.
The justices made it clear in their 13-page opinion that she can.
"Although the attorney general cannot sue on behalf of a county in a matter solely of local interest, the attorney general can sue on behalf of a county in a matter of state interest," Chief Justice Maura Corrigan wrote for the court.
As part of a nationwide legal attack, Michigan sued Philip Morris and other tobacco manufacturers in 1996 seeking to recoup health-care expenses spent on smokers. The state settled its claim in 1998, along with 45 other states and the District of Columbia.
Michigan's settlement calls for cigarette-makers to pay the state $8.9 billion over 25 years.
A year later, Wayne County filed its lawsuit, claiming largely the same damages.
The state has received about $610 million in tobacco settlement funds since 1999. So far, the money has chiefly paid for college scholarships for students who perform well on standardized state tests.
But some lawmakers fear the recession may force them to use the money to keep state programs afloat in the next fiscal year.
Granholm has complained that none of the money has been used for smoking prevention, one of the provisions of the settlement. The state's budget office has said at least $3 million was used for prevention last year.