By Matt Schultz
December 9th, 2012 1:00pm
The Supreme Court of the United States has for the fifth time rejected Big Tobacco’s request that it grant certiorari and reverse a Florida jury verdict stemming from the landmark Engle case. On November 26, 2012, the high court rejected the cigarette manufacturers’ latest bid in R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. et al. v. Clay, Case No. 12-272—a case in which a Florida jury awarded a total of more than $21 million in damages against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and co-defendant Liggett Group, Inc., for the death of Janie Mae Clay, who began smoking Liggett cigarettes at the age of 14 and continued as a lifelong smoker of RJR brands until quitting just four years before her death due to COPD in 2003.
In 2007 the Florida Supreme Court decertified the large Engle class and reversed a classwide punitive damage verdict, but held that class members like Mrs. Clay’s survivors could proceed individually against the defendants. Thousands of cases were filed across Florida. RJR, Liggett, and other cigarette defendants appealed the original Engle ruling and the Supreme Court rejected that appeal in 2007 (552 U.S. 941). Despite a steady stream of press statements and financial circulars predicting that the federal courts would dismantle the Florida Supreme Court’s Engle decision, the Supreme Court denied certiorari last year in the lead case of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Martin (11-754) and in three separate tag-along cases to Martin.
The industry has suffered more than $500 million in verdicts to date and, in a reversal of decades-long “no loss” trial record, has lost more than it has won in cases going to verdict. Several thousand cases await trial.
Matt Schultz is a shareholder with the Levin Papantonio Law Firm in Pensacola, Florida. He is a member of the Florida Bar and a former member of the Florida Bar’s Federal Court Practice Committee. He is a Senior Writer for the national publication The Trial Lawyer Magazine.