Altria Group, Inc. v. Good

PETITIONER: Altria Group, Inc., et al.
RESPONDENT: Stephanie Good et al.
LOCATION: Coffee County Sheriff's Department

DOCKET NO.: 07-562
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 555 US 70 (2008)
GRANTED: Jan 18, 2008
ARGUED: Oct 06, 2008
DECIDED: Dec 15, 2008

ADVOCATES:
Douglas Hallward-Driemeier - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the respondents
David C. Frederick - argued the cause for the respondents
Theodore B. Olson - argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

A group of cigarette smokers brought this claim against Altria, the cigarette manufacturer, in federal court in Maine. The smokers asserted that Altria's advertisement claiming that its product was "light" and had "lowered tar and nicotine" constituted misrepresentations under the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act. The United States District Court for the District of Maine granted summary judgment in favor of Altria on the claim.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, however, reversed the lower court and found in favor of the plaintiff smokers. The court held that the Maine Act was not preempted, either explicitly or implicitly, by a similar federal act, the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act, and that Altria's assertions did in fact constitute misrepresentations under the Maine Act.

Question

Does federal preemption of the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act hinge on the express or implied nature of the allegedly fraudulent misrepresentations?

Media for Altria Group, Inc. v. Good

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 06, 2008 in Altria Group, Inc. v. Good

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 15, 2008 in Altria Group, Inc. v. Good

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Stevens has our opinion this morning in case 07-562, Altria Group versus Good and that will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

The respondents for many years, smokes cigarettes manufactured by the petitioners, cigarettes marketed by the petitioners as being light or low tar.

In 2005, respondents filed suit in the United States District Court.

The suit alleged that those cigarettes do not in fact deliver less tar than regular cigarettes.

It further alleged that petitioner's fraudulent concealment of that fact violated the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act.

In the District Court, the petitioners moved for summary judgment on the ground that the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act as amended expressly preempts the respondent's claims.

The Labeling Act provides that no requirement or provision based on smoking and health shall be imposed under state law with respect to the advertising or promotion of any cigarettes that are labeled in conformity with the federal law.

The petitioners also argued that respondent's claim is impliedly preempted because it is inconsistent with the Federal Trade Commission policy encouraging cigarette manufacturers' use of light and low tar descriptors.

The District Court granted summary judgment for the petitioners.

It concluded that the respondent's claim is expressly preempted because it seeks to require or prohibit certain statements in petitioner's advertising based on smoking and health.

The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed.

It characterized respondent's claim as a fraud claim and so not based on smoking and health.

The Court of Appeals held the claim is not expressly preempted.

It also rejected petitioner's implied preemption argument.

It found no federal policy incurred in cigarette manufacturers to use light or low tar descriptors.

We granted certiorari to address both the express and implied preemption questions.

In an opinion authored by Justice Stevens, we now affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

16 years ago in Cipollone versus Liggett Group, the Court held that the Labeling Act did not preempt a common law claim that cigarette manufacturers had fraudulently concealed a material fact about their product.

The state statute under which respondents in this case filed suit prohibits deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce.

Like the fraud claim in Cipollone, respondent's claim alleges a breach of the duty not to deceive, a duty that is not based on smoking and health.

We now follow our disposition of the common law fraud claim in Cipollone in rejecting petitioner's argument that the similar statutory claim in this case is preempted.

We also reject petitioner's contention that respondents' claim is impliedly preempted because it will present an obstacle to a longstanding policy of the FTC.

Petitioners argue that the FTC has for decades promoted the development and consumption of low tar cigarettes and has encouraged consumers to rely on manufacturers' representations of tar and nicotine content.

Our study of the regulatory history however, reveals no such policy.

We therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Justice Thomas has filed a dissenting opinion in which the Chief Justice and Justices Scalia and Alito have joined.