Cases & Deals

R.J. Reynolds wins jury verdict in first federal "Engle progeny" lawsuit

Client(s) R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

Jones Day successfully represented R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in the first "Engle progeny" lawsuit tried to verdict in federal court. On February 16, 2012, after more than eight days of trial, a jury in Jacksonville, Florida returned a verdict in favor of R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris USA in Gollihue v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co, et al. The jury deliberated approximately 45 minutes before issuing a defense verdict in this wrongful death action.

The plaintiff in Gollihue, acting as personal representative for her deceased husband (who had smoked cigarettes manufactured by R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris) asserted claims for strict liability, negligence, fraudulent concealment, and conspiracy. She argued that her husband was a member of the class decertified by the Florida Supreme Court in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 (Fla. 2006), after a year-long trial in 1999. The Florida Supreme Court's decision allowed putative class members to initiate individual law suits against cigarette manufacturers, with certain generalized findings from the 1999 class action trial to be given an unspecified "res judicata effect." Over 9,000 plaintiffs now have cases pending in the state and federal courts of Florida.

While there have been more than 50 Engle progeny trials in state court, the Gollihue case was the first ever progeny trial in federal court. The case was also significant in that R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris presented a medical defense based on the Engle jury finding that smoking cigarettes containing nicotine does not cause a specific form of lung cancer known as bronchioloalveolar carcinoma (or "BAC"). Plaintiff attempted to relitigate the Engle jury's finding that BAC lung cancer is not caused by smoking, while at the same time using the more generalized findings to establish the elements of the Plaintiff's claims. The federal court judge rejected Plaintiff's argument, noting that "sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander."

The jury deliberated for approximately 45 minutes before returning a complete defense verdict. It found that the plaintiff's husband suffered from BAC lung cancer and therefore did not reach the remaining issues in the case.

The Jones Day trial team was led by partners Stephanie Parker and David Monde, with assistance from partners John Yarber, John Walker, and Emily Baker and from associates Jason Burnette, Jordon Patterson, and Katie Tucker (all of Atlanta).

Virginia Gollihue, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Manuel Gollihue v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., No. 3:09-cv-10530-RBD-JBT (M.D. Fla., Jacksonville Div.)