Cantley v. Lorillard Tobacco Co., Inc.

CourtSupreme Court of Alabama
Citation681 So.2d 1057
PartiesProd.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 14,646 Mikki CANTLEY, as administrator of the Estate of Harlon Godfrey, deceased v. LORILLARD TOBACCO COMPANY, INC., et al. 1950537.
Decision Date07 June 1996

Page 1057

681 So.2d 1057
Prod.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 14,646
Mikki CANTLEY, as administrator of the Estate of Harlon Godfrey, deceased
v.
LORILLARD TOBACCO COMPANY, INC., et al.
1950537.
Supreme Court of Alabama.
June 7, 1996.
Rehearing Denied Oct. 4, 1996.

Page 1058

James C. King and Gina Thomas Cross of King, Ivey & Junkin, Jasper, and Charles E. Harrison of King, Ivey & Junkin, Fayette, for Appellant.

William C. Knight, Jr. and John C. Morrow of Burr & Forman, Birmingham, Harvey Jackson, Jr. and Edward R. Jackson of Tweedy, Jackson & Beech, Jasper, and Robert E. Northrip, William L. Allinder and Billy R. Randles of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, Kansas City, Missouri, for Appellee Lorillard Tobacco Company.

Samuel H. Franklin and Lee H. Hollis of Lightfoot, Franklin, White, L.L.C., Birmingham, James R. Johnson and E. Elaine Rogers-Walsh of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue, Atlanta, Georgia, and Charles R. Stephens, Jasper, for Appellee R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

HOUSTON, Justice.

Mikki Cantley, as personal representative of Harlon Godfrey, deceased, filed a wrongful death action against several tobacco-related defendants, alleging that those defendants had caused Godfrey's death; Godfrey had been a smoker. 1 The trial judge, based on federal preemption grounds, entered a summary judgment for the defendant Lorillard Tobacco Company ("Lorillard") and entered a partial summary judgment for the defendant R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company ("R.J. Reynolds"). After the summary judgments were made final pursuant to Rule 54(b), Ala.R.Civ.P., the plaintiff appealed. All parties to this appeal agree that it raises only one issue: Whether the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1969 ("the labeling act of

Page 1059

1969"), which amended the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965, preempts the plaintiff's wrongful death cause of action. 2

As a teenager, Harlon Godfrey began smoking two packs of cigarettes a day; he continued to do so until shortly before he died. The plaintiff alleged that Godfrey smoked only "Winston" cigarettes, manufactured by the defendant R.J. Reynolds, until he was in his middle 40's, and then changed to the "Kent Light" brand of cigarettes, a product of the defendant Lorillard. Sometime in the late 1980s, Godfrey was diagnosed with cancer of the hypopharynx and larynx. Chemotherapy and attempts at surgically eradicating the cancer failed. Godfrey died from cancer-related causes on April 3, 1991, at the age of 61.

Cantley filed this wrongful death action on April 2, 1993. Cantley originally pleaded three causes of action--fraudulent suppression; liability under the Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine ("AEMLD") for failure to warn of an unreasonable hazard; and liability under the AEMLD for design defect. 3 After raising federal preemption as a defense in their answers, R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard later filed separate summary judgment motions based solely upon federal preemption grounds, relying upon 15 U.S.C. § 1334(b) and Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 505 U.S. 504, 112 S.Ct. 2608, 120 L.Ed.2d 407 (1992). Cantley voluntarily dismissed her failure-to-warn claim, conceding that that claim was clearly preempted under Cipollone. Following a hearing, the trial judge entered a summary judgment for Lorillard as to both of the remaining claims. The trial judge then entered a summary judgment for R.J. Reynolds as to those two remaining claims, to the extent that the plaintiff seeks redress for alleged tortious conduct occurring on or after July 1, 1969, the effective date of the labeling act of 1969. 4 The plaintiff appealed.

The second paragraph of Article VI of the United States Constitution sets out what is known as the Supremacy Clause:

"This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof ... shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding."

The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly held that "[i]t is basic to this constitutional command that all conflicting state [laws] be without effect." Maryland v. Louisiana, 451 U.S. 725, 746, 101 S.Ct. 2114, 2128-29, 68 L.Ed.2d 576 (1981) (citing M'Culloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 316, 427, 4 L.Ed. 579 (1819)). Therefore, when federal and state laws conflict, the federal law triumphs and preempts the conflicting state law.

Not only are conflicting state statutes and regulations preempted, but state common law rules are also preempted to the extent that they conflict with federal law. In San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 247, 79 S.Ct. 773, 780-81, 3 L.Ed.2d 775 (1959), the United States Supreme Court held:

"The obligation to pay compensation can be, indeed is designed to be, a potent method of governing conduct and controlling

Page 1060

policy. Even the States' salutary effort to redress private wrongs or grant compensation for past harm cannot be exerted to regulate activities that are potentially subject to the exclusive federal regulatory scheme."

This principle was reaffirmed by the United States Supreme Court's opinion in Cipollone. 5

In support of their summary judgments, R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard argue that the preemption provision found in the labeling act of 1969, codified at 15 U.S.C. § 1334(b), preempts Cantley's claims. That subsection states:

"No requirement or prohibition based on smoking and health shall be imposed under State law with respect to the advertising or promotion of any cigarettes the packages of which are labeled in conformity with the provisions of this Act."

15 U.S.C. § 1334(b). Because preemption is a matter of federal law, we must look to federal authority, especially United States Supreme Court authority, for guidance in interpreting and applying the § 1334(b) preemption provision.

In Cipollone, the United States Supreme Court sought to interpret § 1334(b), as well as to determine the extent to which the labeling act of 1969 preempts state law, including state common law causes of action. Our task of determining whether one or both of Cantley's claims are preempted by the federal...

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  • Eubanks v. Hale
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • July 2, 1999
    ...constitutional command [of the Supremacy Clause] that all conflicting state [laws] be without effect.'" Cantley v. Lorillard Tobacco Co., 681 So.2d 1057, 1059 (Ala.1996) (quoting Maryland v. Louisiana, 451 U.S. 725, 746, 101 S.Ct. 2114, 68 L.Ed.2d 576 (1981)). "Therefore, when federal and s......
  • Eubanks v Hale, 1980596
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • November 5, 1999
    ...command [of the Supremacy Clause] that all conflicting state [laws] be without effect.'" Cantley v. Lorillard Tobacco Co., 681 So. 2d 1057, 1059 (Ala. 1996) (quoting Maryland v. Louisiana, 451 U.S. 725, 746 (1981)). "Therefore, when federal and state laws conflict, the federal law triumphs ......
  • Spain v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.
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    • June 30, 2003
    ...of acting or not acting.' "Ex Parte Household Retail Services, 744 So.2d 871, 879 (Ala.1999). Under Cantley [v. Lorillard Tobacco Co., 681 So.2d 1057, 1061 (Ala.1996) ], there is no state law duty to disclose facts other than through advertising or promotion. See Cantley, 681 So.2d at 1061-......
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    ...have found general allegations in this regard insufficient to escape § 1334(b)'s preemptive reach. See Cantley v. Lorillard Tobacco Co., 681 So.2d 1057, 1061 (Ala.1996) (finding bare allegation that cigarette manufacturers concealed material facts was "inevitably based upon a state law duty......
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