Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc.

Decision Date21 December 2006
Docket NumberNo. SC03-1856.,SC03-1856.
Citation945 So.2d 1246
PartiesHoward A. ENGLE, M.D., et al., Petitioners, v. LIGGETT GROUP, INC., et al., Respondents.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Stanley M. Rosenblatt and Susan Rosenblatt of Stanley M. Rosenblatt, P.A., Miami, Florida, for Petitioners.

Alvin Bruce Davis of Steel, Hector and Davis, P.A., Miami, Florida, Mercer K. Clarke and Kelly A. Luther of Clarke, Silverglate, Campbell, Williams and Montgomery, Miami, Florida, Marc E. Kasowitz, Daniel R. Benson and Aaron H. Marks of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres and Friedman, LLP, New York, New York, Elliott H. Scherker, Arthur J. England, Jr., and David L. Ross of Greenberg Traugrig, P.A., Miami, Florida, Norman A. Coll and Kenneth J. Reilly of Shook, Hardy and Bacon, LLP, Miami, Florida, Stephen N. Zack of Zack, Sparber, Kosnitzky, Spratt and Brooks, P.A., Miami, Florida, Benjamine Reid and Wendy F. Lumish of Carlton Fields, P.A., Miami, Florida, Anthony N. Upshaw of Adorno and Yoss, P.A., Miami, Florida, Renaldy J. Gutierrez and Kathleen M. Sales of Gutierrez and Associates, Miami, Florida, Dan K. Webb and Stuart Altschuler of Winston and Strawn, LLP, Chicago, Illinois, Robert H. Klonoff of Jones Day, Washington, D.C., Robert C. Heim and Joseph Patrick Archie of Dechert, LLP, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, James R. Johnson and Diane P. Flannery of Jones Day, Atlanta, Georgia, and Richard A. Schneider of King and Spalding, LLP, Atlanta, Georgia, Joseph P. Moodhe of Debevoise and Plimpton, New York, New York, James T. Newsom of Shook, Hardy and Bacon, LLP, Kansas City, Missouri, for Respondents.

Norwood S. Wilner of Spohrer, Wilner, Maxwell and Matthews, P.A., Jacksonville, Florida on behalf of Tobacco Trial Lawyers Association; Theodore Jon Leopold of Ricci—Leopold, P.A., Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, Richard Frankel, Matthew L. Myers, and Michael Stroud, Washington, D.C. on behalf of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice and Public Citizen, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and the American Cancer Society; Stephen P. Teret and Jon S. Vernick, Center for Law and the Public's Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland, and John B. Ostrow, Miami, Florida on behalf of American Public Health Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Legacy Foundation and Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center/University of Miami Hospital and Clinics and the Women's Cancer League of Greater Miami; Phillip Timothy Howard of Howard and Associates, P.A., Tallahassee, Florida, Douglas Blanke, Executive Director, William Mitchell College of Law, Saint Paul, Minnesota, Richard A. Daynard, Ph.D., Robert L. Kline and Christopher Banthin, Northeastern University School of Law, Boston, Massachusetts on behalf of Tobacco Control Legal Consortium and Tobacco Control Resource Center; Roy C. Young of Young Van Assenderp, Tallahassee, Florida, John H. Beisner, John F. Niblock and Jessica Davidson Miller of O'Melveny and Myers, LLP, Washington, D.C., and Robin S. Conrad, National Chamber Litigation Center, Inc., Washington, D.C., on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States; Rebecca O'Dell Townsend of Haas, Dutton, Blackburn, Lewis and Longley, P.L., Tampa, Florida, Daniel J. Popeo and David Price, Washington, D.C., on behalf of Washington Legal Foundation and National Association of Manufacturers, for Amici Curiae.


This case arises from the Third District Court of Appeal's reversal of a final judgment entered in a smokers' class action lawsuit that sought damages against cigarette companies and industry organizations for alleged smoking-related injuries. See Liggett Group, Inc. v. Engle, 853 So.2d 434 (Fla. 3d DCA 2003) (hereinafter "Engle II"). The final judgment awarded $12.7 million in compensatory damages to three individual plaintiffs and $145 billion in punitive damages to the entire class. See id. at 441. We have jurisdiction because Engle II misapplies our decision in Young v. Miami Beach Improvement Co., 46 So.2d 26 (Fla.1950). See art. V, § 3(b)(3), Fla. Const.

For the reasons explained more fully in this opinion, although we approve the Third District's reversal of the $145 billion class action punitive damages award, we quash the remainder of the Third District's decision. A majority of the Court (Anstead, Pariente, Lewis and Quince) holds that the compensatory damages award in favor of Mary Farnan in the amount of $2,850,000 and Angie Della Vecchia in the amount of $4,023,000 should be reinstated. However, the court unanimously agrees that the compensatory damages award in favor of Frank Amodeo must be vacated based on the statute of limitations.

Further, a majority of the Court (Anstead, Pariente, Lewis and Quince) concludes that Engle II misapplied our decision on the law of the case doctrine in Florida Department of Transportation v. Juliano, 801 So.2d 101, 106 (Fla.2001); that the certification of the class action and the Phase I trial process were not abuses of the trial court's discretion; and that certain common liability findings can stand. However, we also conclude that the remaining issues, including individual causation and apportionment of fault among the defendants, are highly individualized and do not lend themselves to class action treatment. Thus, we remand with directions that the class should be decertified without prejudice to the class members filing individual claims within one year of the issuance of our mandate in this case with res judicata effect given to certain Phase I findings.

More specifically, we hold as follows:

PUNITIVE DAMAGES: We unanimously hold that the Third District erred in concluding that under Young the class action punitive damages claims were barred by the settlement agreement between the State of Florida and many of the defendants involved in the present action (Florida Settlement Agreement or FSA). However, we vacate the punitive damages award because we unanimously conclude that the punitive damages award is excessive as a matter of law.

A majority of the Court (Anstead, Pariente, Lewis, and Quince) also concludes that the Third District misapplied Ault v. Lohr, 538 So.2d 454, 456 (Fla.1989), by holding that compensatory damages must be determined before a jury can consider entitlement to punitive damages. Although Justices Lewis and Quince would allow the finding of entitlement to punitive damages to stand, a different majority of the Court (Wells, Anstead, Pariente, and Bell) concludes that the trial court erred in allowing the jury to make this finding during Phase I because, consistent with Ault, proof of liability, which includes both reliance and causation, is a predicate to the determination of entitlement to punitive damages.

PHASE I FINDINGS: A majority of the Court (Anstead, Pariente, Lewis, and Quince) concludes that the Third District erred as a matter of law in conducting a plenary review of the trial court's decision to certify the Engle Class after completion of an extended Phase I trial and after a different panel of the Third District upheld the certification.1 This same majority concludes that it was proper to allow the jury to make findings in Phase I on Questions 1 (general causation), 2 (addiction of cigarettes), 3 (strict liability), 4(a) (fraud by concealment), 5(a) (civil-conspiracy-concealment), 6 (breach of implied warranty), 7 (breach of express warranty), and 8 (negligence). Therefore, these findings in favor of the Engle Class can stand. The Court unanimously agrees that the nonspecific findings in favor of the plaintiffs on Questions 4 (fraud and misrepresentation) and 9 (intentional infliction of emotional distress) are inadequate to allow a subsequent jury to consider individual questions of reliance and legal cause. Therefore, these findings cannot stand. Because the finding in favor of the plaintiffs on Question 5 (civil conspiracy-misrepresentation) relies on the underlying tort of misrepresentation, this finding also cannot stand.

ARGUMENTS OF ENGLE CLASS'S COUNSEL: A majority of the Court (Anstead, Pariente, Lewis, and Quince) disagrees with the Third District's conclusion that the plaintiffs' counsel's improper arguments require reversal, but we condemn in no uncertain terms some of these arguments. We do not address the Phase II arguments because we are reversing the punitive damages award from Phase II-B and the defendants do not raise any error with respect to arguments made during Phase II-A, in which the jury determined the individual compensatory damages of three class representatives.

CLASS CERTIFICATION CUT-OFF DATE: While a majority (Anstead, Pariente, Lewis, and Quince) agrees that the class cannot be open-ended, we disagree with the Third District's ruling that the appropriate cut-off date for class membership is October 31, 1994, the date the class was initially certified. We conclude that the date of the trial court's November 21, 1996, order that recertified a narrower class is the appropriate cut-off date.

JUDGMENT FOR CLASS MEMBERS: Because Mary Farnan, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 1996, is clearly a proper member of the class, the Third District erred in reversing the compensatory verdict in favor of Farnan in the amount of $2,850,000, except as against Liggett Group Inc. and Brooke Group Holding Inc., whom the jury found to be zero percent at fault. We thus approve the Third District's conclusion that a directed verdict should be granted in favor of Liggett and Brooke.

As for Angie Della Vecchia, she was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 1997. However, at that time, it was also noted by her doctors that she had a past medical history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD...

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