Tobacco Companies Asks U.S. Judge to Preside Over Class Action
Miami, Aug. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Philip Morris Cos. and other U.S. tobacco companies urged a federal judge not to send the first class-action lawsuit over smoking-related damages that's gone to trial back to the state court that last month assessed $145 in p
In legal documents filed in opposition to the motion by the plaintiffs' lawyers to return the case to state court, the cigarette makers asked U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages to preside over the case, claiming issues of federal law that can only be addressed by a U.S. district court are at stake.
The tobacco companies managed to transfer the case to federal court when a union health care plan intervened in the case last month, invoking a federal law that could allow insurers to recover funds paid to Florida smokers.
Since claims by the health care plan and the class of Florida smokers ``involve the same facts, occurrences, witnesses, and evidence . . . there can be no doubt that this court has supplemental jurisdiction over the entire case,'' the companies said in the court filing.
Federal court would be the only place to avoid overlapping claims, lawyers for the tobacco industry claim. Federal courts have consistently held that smokers' health claims are too diverse to be grouped together.
Ungaro-Benages will hear arguments at a Nov. 7 hearing before deciding whether to send the case back to state court. In a brief hearing last month, the judge offered no hint on how she might rule.
Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Robert Kaye, who presided over the case in Miami, is waiting for the federal court's decision before ruling on the tobacco companies' motions to throw out the record-shattering punitive damages.
Jurors, who had already decided that three named plaintiffs were entitled to $12.7 million in compensation, deliberated fewer than five hours on July 14 before awarding the punitive damages.
Cigarette makers claim the award would bankrupt them if it stands. A final judgment in the case would require each tobacco company to post a $100 million bond while appealing.
Philip Morris shares fell 38 cents to 30.5 today, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. shares fell 69 cents to 35, Loews Corp. rose 1.44 to 80.63, British American Tobacco Plc American depositary receipts fell 31 cents to 13 and Vector Group Ltd. shares rose 38 cents to 20.38.