Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth on Wednesday denied a petition seeking to reopen a 12-year-old lawsuit over “light” cigarette labeling.
The ruling, which defendant Philip Morris provided to The Record, comes more than four months after Ruth heard arguments over the petition that St. Louis Stephen Tillery brought on behalf of plaintiffs in the 2000 class action suit.
Tillery could not immediately be reached for comment. Messages left last week for him, as well Ruth, regarding the status of the case were not returned.
On behalf of Philip Morris, Murray Garnick, senior vice president and associate general counsel for Altria Client Services, said in a written statement that Ruth “correctly recognized that the plaintiffs could not meet their burden of proof to reopen the judgment.”
“Specifically,” he added, “the plaintiffs did not show that they would have been successful before the Illinois Supreme Court.”
Tillery in 2008 filed a petition under Section 2-1401 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, seeking relief from the state high court's dismissal of the $10.1 billion verdict in Price v. Philip Morris.
The plaintiffs, which claimed the tobacco company was deceptive in its labeling, argued in the petition that the Supreme Court justices relied on factually inaccurate information to reach the 4-2 ruling that overturned the verdict.
It also claimed that a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Altria Group v. Good, as well as statements by the Federal Trade Commission that same year, constituted "newly discovered evidence" that warranted relief.
The FTC in 2008 said it did not have a formal policy allowing use of “light” and “low tar” labeling, statements that Tillery contends contradicts testimony from a witness in the 2003 trial that it did.
The tobacco giant at an August hearing on the petition argued that relief couldn't be granted because the evidence the plaintiffs were attempting to rely on occurred two years after the judgment was handed down in Price v. Philip Morris.
After addressing some procedural issues over the petition, Ruth wrote in his ruling that "Plaintiffs have failed to show it is more probably true than not that the Illinois Supreme Court would not have ruled in Defendant's favor."
Just as he did at the August hearing, Ruth acknowledged in his order that his ruling might not mark the last word in the suit.
"Plaintiffs maintain the Court should reinstate the previous ten billion dollar judgment while defendant maintains this Court can, at most, only set aside the Circuit Court's December 18, 2006 order," Ruth wrote, explaining that the dispute is moot now given his order.
"However," he added, "should either the Fifth District Appellate Court or the Illinois Supreme Court reverse this Order, that dispute may again be an issue. In that possibility the Illinois Supreme Court may, eventually, be called upon to rule on the issues they reserved for another day."
Both parties made it clear at the August hearing that if Ruth ruled against them, they would appeal.