Tobacco firms seek dismissal of U.S. lawsuit
WASHINGTON, Dec 27 (Reuters) - Major tobacco companies on Monday asked a federal judge to dismiss a huge U.S. lawsuit seeking to recover billions of dollars of health care costs arguing that the U.S. government has no legal basis to sue.
In a filing with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, lawyers for Philip Morris Inc. and other tobacco companies named in the suit argued that the U.S. government has no basis to recover Medicare and other health costs.
``The government is asserting causes of action for Medicare recovery that have never been recognized by any court before, that it has never asserted before, that it has publicly stated it does not have, and that it has to this date never asserted against anyone other than this group of defendants which it has chosen to target in this selectively filed lawsuit,'' the companies argued.
The tobacco companies also argued that the government in its lawsuit ignored a huge 1998 civil settlement in which they agreed to pay 46 states $206 billion. That settlement involved state spending to treat smoking-related illnesses.
In its suit filed in September, the U.S. government accused the tobacco industry of engaging in fraud and deceit since the 1950s, and sought to recover much of the $20 billion spent annually by the U.S. government on smoking-related illnesses.
The suit, filed under the federal Racketeer-Infuenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) that has been used to go after the Mafia and other organized crime groups, alleged the tobacco firms coordinated efforts since 1954 to hide their knowledge about the devastating health effects and addictive nature of smoking.
The suit named Philip Morris Inc.; Philip Morris Companies Inc.; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; American Tobacco Co.; Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.; British-American Tobacco P.L.C.; British-American Tobacco (Investments) Ltd.; Lorillard Tobacco Co. Inc.; Liggett and Myers Inc.; The Council for Tobacco Research U.S.A. Inc.; and the Tobacco Institute Inc.
The government alleged that top tobacco executives met in 1954 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City and agreed to wage a long-term campaign to mislead the American public and conceal information about smoking's harmful effects.
The companies said the government ignores the settlement with the states and alleges no wrongful conduct by the companies after 1995 -- two omissions they said were crucial. The companies argued that granting of equitable relief requires that the government allege a reasonable likelihood that RICO violations will be repeated in the future.
The government has until February 25 to file a response to the industry's request for dismissal. The companies may file a reply to the government by March 27 and the court has scheduled to hear arguments on the dismissal request on May 15, the tobacco companies said.