Preemption Up in Smoke? The U.S. Supreme Court Rules Against Preemption in “Light Cigarette” Case

December 15, 2008

By Kurt R. Karst –      

Earlier today, by a five-to-four vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against preemption in Altria Group, Inc. Good, the so-called “light cigarette” case.  Background on the case is available via the SCOTUS Wiki

The respondents in the case (i.e., Good et al) alleged that Altria violated the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act by fraudulently advertising their cigarettes as “light” and “low in tar and nicotine.”  The U.S. District Court for the District of Maine dismissed the lawsuit on preemption grounds, finding the Maine law preempted by the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act (“FCLAA”).  In August 2007, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reinstated the lawsuit, holding that the FCLAA neither expressly nor impliedly preempts the respondents’ fraud claim.  In ruling that neither the FCLAA, nor actions in this field by the Federal Trade Commission in Commission dating back to 1966 preempted respondents’ state law fraud claim, the Supreme Court has effectively cleared the way for smokers to file lawsuits to challenge deceptive cigarette marketing. 

This ruling could have an impact on the FDA preemption cases now before the Court; namely that small case everyone is watching – Wyeth v. Levine.