Tobacco Companies Sued by Ontario
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Government of Ontario has sued an international group of major tobacco companies alleging it hid the dangers of smoking in a wide-spread racketeering scheme that ``spread its shadow'' over North America and Europe.
The civil racketeering suit, filed late Wednesday in Manhattan federal court, alleged the companies constitute a substantial portion of the international tobacco industry. The suit alleged the goal of the international conspiracy was to, ''ensure a market for their hazardous products -- cigarettes.''
It alleged the conspiracy was led by U.S. tobacco companies working in large part through their lawyers and the scheme operated in the United States, Canada, Germany, Britain and Switzerland.
The suit was brought on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Ontario through the Minister of Health and Long Term Care. The suit is similar to litigation brought by U.S. state attorneys general against tobacco companies in that it seeks to recoup costs spent to treat sick smokers.
The litigation resulted in a $206 billion settlement in 1998 between 46 states and the major tobacco companies. Four states had reached individual settlements prior to the larger accord.
One of the law firms that helped many of those states is South Carolina's Ness, Motley, Loadholt, Richardson & Poole, which is also representing Ontario in the current action.
``This looks like a lawsuit based on one thing, greed, with maybe a dash of politics thrown in,'' said Michael York, a Philip Morris lawyer. ``My prediction is that it will be dismissed.''
The suit was brought under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, that provides for triple damages if a defendant is shown to have engaged in a pattern of wrongdoing.
The case was filed in the United States after a Canadian ruling last month in which a British Columbia court struck down a law that allowed the province to try to recover health costs from parent companies of tobacco manufacturers.
Among the long list of defendants in the New York case are: Imperial Tobacco Plc, British American Tobacco, Philip Morris Cos. Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc., Japan Tobacco Inc., Brooke Group Ltd. Lorillard Tobacco Co., Loews Corp., the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers Council and the Council for Tobacco Research.
The suit alleged the defendants hid and manipulated information about the hazards of smoking and the addictive nature of nicotine.
It alleges a conspiracy, ``of such scope and duration that it is truly unique in the annals of American jurisprudence. It constituted a scheme to defraud and cheat that lasted almost half a century and spread its shadow over North America and Europe.
``The conduct of the defendants was inconsistent with moral uprightness, fundamental honesty, fair play and right dealing to the general and business life of members of society.''
It is unclear how well the Canadian suit will fare in the United States, particularly if it is eventually transferred to Washington to be consolidated with similar lawsuits filed by other foreign countries.
Those suits are being handled by U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman who as recently as December dismissed Guatemala's tobacco suit saying officials could not show the government was directly injured by cigarette companies.
Friedman now has jurisdiction over five other cases brought by the governments of Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ukraine and Venezuela, as well as the Brazilian state of Goias.