Cases & Deals

R.J. Reynolds secures victory in first "Engle Progeny" appeal

Client(s) R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

On July 22, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a watershed decision favorable to Jones Day client R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in the first appellate opinion in an "Engle progeny" case which is binding in the more than 4,400 Engle progeny cases currently pending in federal court in Florida, and provides crucial appellate guidance for the similar number of cases pending in Florida state courts (Brown v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 611 F.3d 1324 (11th Cir. 2010); Brown v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 576 F.Supp. 2d 1328 (M.D.Fla. 2008)).

The thousands of Engle progeny cases arise out of the Florida Supreme Court's decision in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 (Fla. 2006). In that case, the Florida Supreme Court decertified a class of Florida smokers but upheld certain findings from the classwide phase of the trial. The issue of how, if at all, the Engle findings may be invoked by plaintiffs claiming to be members of the decertified Engle class is presented in every Engle progeny case. Even though the Engle findings do not identify any specific wrongful conduct by anyone and cannot be connected to any individual plaintiff's alleged injuries, the Engle progeny plaintiffs have argued that those findings preclusively establish certain essential elements of their individual claims against the tobacco company defendants. Reynolds and the other tobacco companies have pointed out that according to the Engle findings such preclusive effect violates the Engle decision, Florida preclusion law, and federal and state constitutional due process guarantees.

Applying Florida law, the Eleventh Circuit held: "The bottom line, then, is that the Phase I approved findings may be given effect to the full extent of, but no farther than, what the jury found." Under the logic of this opinion, every judgment against Reynolds in Florida state courts would have to be reversed.

Brown v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 611 F.3d 1324 (11th Cir. 2010); Brown v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 576 F. Supp. 2d 1328 (M.D.Fla. 2008)