Supreme Court to Rule on Change of Venue in Tobacco Case

In a significant turn of events, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal in a case that may determine whether tobacco companies can be sued and tried in state courts. In the class-action case Watson v. Philip Morris, plaintiffs are objecting to the shifting of venue from state to federal court, a decision made by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

The original class-action suit, filed in Arkansas state court, accused Philip Morris of deceptive marketing tactics with regard to a couple of its “light” brands. However, the tobacco company, which is a division of Altria Group Inc., requested that the case be moved to federal court, claiming that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was the primary regulator of tobacco advertising.

The appellate court granted that request, but that decision is now being challenged by the plaintiffs in the case. Now, the Supreme Court must decide whether the appellate ruling was appropriate, much to the dismay of Philip Morris. Companies facing liability litigation prefer to have the cases heard in federal court, where they believe they have a batter chance of more favorable outcomes.

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