Heartland Statement on Illinois Supreme Court’s Altria Decision

Published December 15, 2005

(Chicago, IL — December 15, 2005) Earlier today, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s $10.1 billion judgment against Altria, Inc. Observers contacted by The Heartland Institute supported the court’s decision.

Joseph A. Morris, Chicago lawyer at Morris & De La Rosa; president of The Lincoln Legal Foundation, Chicago; former senior official in the Reagan administration. He can be reached for further comment at 312/606-0876; email [email protected].

The Illinois Consumer Fraud Act provides a safe harbor from civil liability for activity that federal or state laws expressly permit and regulate. The tobacco products involved in this lawsuit clearly fall in that category. The Illinois Supreme Court today held that the plain language of the Illinois statute means exactly what it says. That is a victory for common sense.

The court also closed the door on the outrageous practice of whipsawing someone–whether a big business or a solitary individual–between government regulations and civil liability. The decision is an unmistakable slap in the face to the Madison County lawsuit mill. That is a victory for fairness and for prospects of investment, jobs, and economic progress for the people of Illinois.

Sean Parnell, Vice President – External Affairs, The Heartland Institute. He can be reached for further comment at 312/377-4000; email [email protected]

By reversing a $10.1 billion judgment against Altria, parent company of Kraft Foods, and Phillip Morris, the Illinois Supreme Court has helped to reverse Illinois’ reputation as a “judicial hell-hole.” Business owners, consumers, and anybody interested in the rule of law should applaud today’s decision.

In 2003, a judgment was levied against Altria by a trial court in Illinois on behalf of smokers who claimed they were duped or defrauded into believing “light cigarettes” were less harmful than “regular” cigarettes. Today’s ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court threw out that judgment.

The claims of allegedly duped smokers could not be supported by either facts or law. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission had specifically ruled and authorized tobacco companies to market the “light” cigarettes with words like “low tar” and “light.” Suing companies for doing what they have been authorized by the government to do is the height of lawsuit abuse, and the Illinois Supreme Court wisely slapped down trial lawyers by reversing the earlier ruling.

Illinois has been identified in recent years as having a legal climate hostile to business, in large part because of rulings like the trial court’s judgment against Altria. This hurts job growth and consumers in Illinois because businesses are reluctant to do business in states with hostile legal climates.

The reversal of the judgment against Altria, combined with other actions like the reversal of a $1 billion judgment against State Farm Insurance and the signing of medical malpractice reform by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, suggest Illinois is on its way to erasing and reversing its reputation as unfriendly to business. The people of Illinois are the real winners of the Supreme Court’s decision.

The Heartland Institute is a national nonprofit organization based in Chicago. Founded in 1984, its goal is to help build social movements in support of ideas that empower people. Among other publications, Heartland publishes Lawsuit Abuse Fortnightly, a newsletter documenting cases of lawsuit abuse and its impact on justice and the Rule of Law. Heartland is supported by approximately 1,500 donors and members. For more information, call Ralph Conner, Public Affairs Director, 312/377-4000, or email him at [email protected].