U.S. Supreme Court 2008-2009 term, Altria v Good (07-562)..

October 8, 2008 - At the first Supreme Court arguments session for the 2008-2009 term, a lawsuit (Altria Group Inc. v Good, 07-562) filed by three Mainers accuses Altria Group Inc. of deceptive and unfair advertising regarding their "light" cigarettes. The suit claimed the tobacco company's marketing practices violated Maine's Unfair Trade Practices Law. Philip Morris argued to stop a lawsuit alleging it engaged in advertising fraud by claiming light and low-tar cigarettes weren't as harmful as regular cigarette products. The company's primary argument is that the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) regulation of tobacco product labeling, which has allowed light and low-tar claims to appear on labeling, bars lawsuits based on state advertising fraud laws.

Several conservative justices tied the case to earlier Supreme Court precedent that has preempted state-level cases when federal agencies are involved in oversight of an industry. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., for example, cited last year's 9-1 ruling in Riegel v. Medtronic Inc. (MDT), which barred a state lawsuit on medical devices because of federal device regulations.

Several liberal justices, meanwhile, suggested they think the tobacco advertising law at issue may not bar lawsuits over light cigarettes.

Justice Samuel Alito (a conservative judge)and other justices blasted the FTC for continuing to allow cigarette companies to make light cigarette claims. "You've created this whole problem," Alito said, lecturing Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, an assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General. "You have misled everyone who bought these cigarettes for a long time." (Hallward-Driemeier appeared before the court to argue the FTC regulations don't bar the consumer lawsuit against Philip Morris, but the justices gave him little time to lay out the government's position.)

The Court appeared split on whether consumers in Maine can sue Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris unit over the advertising of light and low-tar cigarettes, but a narrow majority may rule in favor of the tobacco giant.

A Philip Morris victory in this case would blunt perhaps the most significant legal hazard for the tobacco industry. The high court's decision by July 2009, could block as many as 40 similar lawsuits that seek billions of dollars from Philip Morris, Reynolds American Inc.'s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and other cigarette makers.

Reference: UPDATE:US Supreme Court Appears Split In Altria Cigarettes CaseBy Mark H. Anderson, Dow Jones Newswires; 10/6/2008 and Altria Seeks `Knockout Blow' in Supreme Court `Lights' Case by Greg Stohr, Bloomberg.com, 10/6/2008.