Thursday, June 23, 2011

Court Rejects Tobacco Companies' Attempt To Impede Enforcement Of Remedial Order

On behalf of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids Action Fund, the American Cancer Society, and other health groups, we were successful in beating back yet another attempt by the tobacco companies to weaken the remedial order issued in the Court's seminal RICO ruling in United States v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 449 F.Supp.2d 1, 934 (D.D.C. 2006).  Agreeing with our arguments, Judge Kessler issued a decision earlier this week rejecting the industry's motion to "clarify" her order.  Specifically, the industry proposed that the Court insert language restricting the rights of the Public Health Intervenors to enforce the order in the event the tobacco industry violates the order.  Judge Kessler also soundly rejected the tobacco companies' additional arguments that would have weakened the precedential value of the court's findings that the industry committed massive fraud against the public, and would have delayed future efforts to enforce the order's provisions.  The opinion, United States v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., Civ. No. 99-2496 (GK) (D.D.C. June 1, 2011), is available here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Supreme Court Rules in Climate Change Nuisance Case

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Second Circuit's 2009 ruling that several States, the city of New York, and three land trusts had standing to challenge utilities that constitute the nation's largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions.  On behalf of Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation organizations, we had filed an amicus brief focusing on the standing issues raised in the case.  On the merits, however, the Court reversed the Second Circuit, holding that the Clean Air Act and actions taken by the EPA pursuant to the Act displace federal common law suits because the executive branch is actively addressing the nuisance of climate change and such suits could hinder EPA's ability to exercise its judgment in fashioning rules necessary to curb climate change.  On remand, the Court instructed the Second Circuit to consider whether the plaintiffs' claims brought under state nuisance laws are viable - claims which the Supreme Court declined to reach.  The opinion can be found here:  Our amicus brief can be found here:

Motion for Summary Judgment Filed Seeking to Overturn Destructive Levels of ORV Use in Big Cypress National Preserve

On behalf of several conservation organizations and individuals, we recently filed a motion for summary judgment in a case challenging a 2007 decision by the National Park Service that reversed an earlier decision by the agency to close the same Off-Road Vehicle (“ORV”) trails due to serious concerns about environmental damage and harm to highly endangered Florida panthers.  Some of the plaintiffs are responsible for obtaining a settlement in 1995 that required a comprehensive ORV Management Plan in the Preserve (which was issued in 2000), and for subsequently defending the ORV Plan from legal challenges pursued by ORV users.  The decision challenged in the current lawsuit violated both the 1995 Settlement Agreement and various federal environmental laws (NPS Organic Act, Executive Orders 11644 and 11989, NEPA, and the Endangered Species Act) because NPS reopened trails that the ORV Plan requires to be closed on resource protection grounds, and did so without any environmental analysis or meaningful public participation. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Center for Auto Safety Sues over FOIA Fees

Yesterday we filed a complaint in federal district court in D.C. on behalf of the Center for Auto Safety, the leading automobile safety organization in the nation since 1970, against the Department of Treasury. The Center is seeking emails under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to and from Treasury Secretary Geithner and members of the Auto Safety Task Force related to the GM and Chrysler government bailouts, which left personal injury victims without any ability to sue if they are injured by defective GM and Chrysler vehicles purchased before the bailouts. The government has refused to provide the requested records unless the Center pays $33,980 for duplication, and has refused to grant the Center a public interest fee waiver. To assist the Center in shedding light on the government’s role in these extremely costly and controversial bankruptcy bailouts – bankrolled by taxpayers to the tune of $80 billion – our complaint seeks to have the fees for these documents waived.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Judge Denies Tobacco Industry’s Bid To Vacate Massive RICO Ruling

In March 2011, the tobacco companies filed a motion to vacate the district court’s seminal RICO ruling in United States v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 449 F.Supp.2d 1, 934 (D.D.C. 2006) on the ground that the recently enacted Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act eliminates any reasonable likelihood that defendants will engage in future RICO violations.  The 2006 ruling, issued after a nine-month trial and containing more than 4,000 findings of fact, was a substantial victory for the public health and the Public Health Intervenors who we represent.  Among other remedies, the court required the companies to stop using misleading health descriptors like “light” and “low tar” and to issue corrective statements concerning their fraud. Defendants sought vacatur of the court’s findings and remedies, but we and the United States argued that the new statute is not likely to prevent defendants from engaging in the future joint racketeering that the district court had determined, and the D.C. Circuit had affirmed, is likely to continue here.  In a decision issued last week, Judge Kessler agreed with our arguments, holding that “given the type of wrongdoing in which the Defendants have engaged [the Act] simply does not eradicate the likelihood that Defendants will continue to commit RICO violations.”  The opinion, United States v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., Civ. No. 99-2496 (GK) (D.D.C. June 1, 2011), is available here.