Class-Action Denied in Four Tobacco Suits

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The top two U.S. cigarette makers said on Thursday a federal judge denied class-action certification in four lawsuits filed against them and others in the tobacco industry, saying the claims had ``individual issues.''

The four cases, brought in Nevada, were consolidated for purposes of the class-certification proceedings, according to separate statements from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the cigarette making unit of R.J. Reynolds Holdings Inc., and Philip Morris Cos. Inc., the world's largest tobacco company.

One case involved smokers, and the other three were filed on behalf of nonsmoking casino workers exposed to secondhand smoke.

``In sum, the court finds that individual determinations would likely predominate in these enormously large number of cases, thereby defeating the purpose of a class action in maintaining judicial economy,'' the court said in a June 29 opinion.

The companies seemed pleased with the decision.

``Courts continue to recognize that class actions are inappropriate in tobacco litigation because of the overwhelming number of individual issues,'' said William Ohlemeyer, vice president and associate general counsel for Philip Morris. ''Medical monitoring class actions are simply no different.''

R.J. Reynolds said other defendants in the cases included Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., a unit of British American Tobacco Plc; Lorillard Tobacco Co., a unit of Loews Corp.; American Tobacco Co.; and Liggett Group Inc., a unit of Vector Group Ltd.

``This decision and many other similar rulings in both state and federal courts reflect the consensus that these kinds of class actions should not be certified,'' said Daniel Donahue, senior vice president and deputy general counsel for Reynolds Tobacco.

Of the more than 100 tobacco cases filed since 1994 seeking class-action status, only seven classes are now certified, Philip Morris said.

The industry is challenging all of those classes except one, the Broin flight attendant case in Miami. The companies are defending Broin-related claims and defeated the first of about 3,2000 individual claims in April, when a jury ruled the companies had no liability for the lung ailments of a nonsmoking former flight attendant.

Shares of most tobacco-related companies were down at midday on Thursday, the day after Italy's competition regulator said it had opened an investigation into cigarette companies operating in the Italian market on the suspicion of price fixing. Philip Morris and British American Tobacco are among those under investigation.