In Near-miss for Class Plaintiffs, Supreme Court Rejects Big Tobacco Appeal

During a time teeming with animosity for class actions, reports of the Supreme Court’s rejection of a challenge to a $270 million verdict on behalf of a class of smokers in Louisiana against several big tobacco companies comes as welcome news.

Not only does the Court’s refusal to hear the appeal represent a big win for plaintiffs in that case, but it should also give plaintiffs in all consumer class actions, securities class actions and employment class actions something to smile about.

As I wrote in December, through a rarely-used procedure, Justice Scalia unilaterally entered an order permitting Philip Morris and other cigarette companies liable for the multi-million dollar verdict in a state court action, Scott v. American Tobacco Co., 2004-2095 (La.App. 4 Cir. 02/07/2007); 949 So. 2D 1266, to put off paying plaintiffs until the Supreme Court had decided whether it would hear an appeal of the ruling.

In entering his order, Justice Scalia went out on a limb with the following prediction: “I think it reasonably probable that four Justices will vote to grant certiorari, and significantly possible that the judgment below will be reversed.”

As it turned out, Justice Scalia was wrong about that. Without explanation, six or more of the justices voted against granting the petition and the Supreme Court refused to grant certiorari.

In a term that brought us the AT&T Mobility LLC, v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. __ (2011), and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 564 U.S. __ (2011) rulings, that’s great news.

Those rulings are part of a trend limiting individuals’ access to the courts through procedural rulings. The Scott case presented similar procedural questions with potentially far-reaching effects. And, had the Supreme Court granted certiorari, it would have had yet another opportunity to make life tough for class action plaintiffs.