segunda-feira, 15 de dezembro de 2008

O Corte Suprema americana e a indústria do cigarro

Prof. Farlei Martins envia a seguinte notícia publicada no jornal New York Times de 16 de dezembro de 2008 a respeito da decisão da Corte Suprema sobre a indústria do cigarro.
Supreme Court Allows Suits Over Cigarette Marketing
WASHINGTON — Tobacco companies suffered a defeat in the Supreme Court on
Monday when the justices ruled that the companies can be sued by smokers who
contend they were deceived by advertisements promoting “light” cigarettes.

In its 5-to-4 ruling, the court did not state that such advertising is, in
fact, misleading. Rather, it concluded that lawsuits accusing the
cigarette-makers of fraudulent conduct can proceed.

The ruling was a victory for a group of plaintiffs from Maine whose suit
accused the tobacco companies of violating the Maine Unfair Trade Practices
Act by fraudulently advertising that their “light” cigarettes delivered far
less tar and nicotine than regular brands.

The plaintiffs contend that the tobacco companies knew that habitual smokers
who turned to “light” cigarettes would typically inhale more deeply to make
up for the feeling they missed from the old-fashioned unfiltered cigarettes.
The suit was filed as a class-action claim on behalf of all smokers of
Marlboro Lights or Cambridge Lights cigarettes, made by Philip Morris.

The defendants, Altria and its Philip Morris USA unit, tried to get the suit
thrown out by relying on the federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act,
which states that “no requirement or prohibition based on smoking and health
shall be imposed under state law with respect to the advertising or
promotion” of cigarettes that follow federal labeling requirements.

A federal district court sided with the tobacco companies, finding that the
federal labeling act pre-empted the state law. But the United States Court
of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed the district court, concluding
that the federal labeling act “neither expressly nor impliedly pre-empts”
the smokers’ fraud claim.

“The merits of the dispute are not before us,” Justice John Paul Stevens
wrote at the beginning of the majority decision, which was joined by
Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and
Stephen G. Breyer.

To win their suit, the decision emphasized, the complaining smokers still
have to prove that the companies’ “use of ‘light’ and ‘lowered tar’
descriptors in fact violated the state deceptive practices statute.” But
even though not ruling on the merits of such suits, the Supreme Court
delivered a victory to smokers who claim to be aggrieved.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissent asserting that, contrary to the
majority’s interpretation of the law and events, the smokers’ claims under
state law ought to be “expressly pre-empted” by the federal labeling act.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A.
Alito Jr. joined the dissent.

Altria contended that it could still prevail in lawsuits accusing it of
fraud. “We continue to view these cases as manageable, and the company will
assert many of the strong defenses used successfully in the past to defend
us against this very type of lawsuit,” Murray Garnick, the company’s senior
vice president and associate general counsel, told The Associated Press.

But a lawyer for the plaintiffs had another perspective. “Had the court gone
the other way, it would have been open season for the tobacco companies to
continue to perpetrate fraud on the tobacco-consuming public,” David
Frederick, who represented the Maine smokers, told the A.P.

The American Heart Association said it was pleased with the ruling. “Smokers
who have been deceived by Big Tobacco’s dubious marketing practices are now
in a better position to hold the industry accountable,” M. Cass Wheeler,
chief executive of the association, said in a statement.

The majority ruling went against a recent trend of court rulings limiting
state regulation of business and deferring to federal power. Justice Stevens
noted that “we have long recognized that state laws that conflict with
federal laws are ‘without effect.’ ” On the other hand, he observed, when
Congress enacts a law whose language can be interpreted more than one way,
courts normally accept the reading that goes against pre-emption.

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