Cases & Deals

R. J. Reynolds obtains order dismissing 1,250 "Engle progeny" lawsuits and sanctioning plaintiffs' attorneys

Client(s) R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

Jones Day represents defendant R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in many "Engle progeny" cases, including all the ones pending in federal court. "Engle progeny" cases are product-liability suits arising out of a decertified class action on behalf of Florida smokers.

On October 18, 2017, four judges sitting in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida entered an order finding that nearly one third of the "Engle progeny" complaints pending in that court were "frivolous" and sanctioning the attorneys who brought them.

The plaintiffs' attorneys in question were listed as counsel on approximately 3,700 complaints in the Middle District of Florida. As the litigation proceeded, it became apparent to Reynolds and other defendants that many of the complaints suffered from serious defects. For example, more than 500 were filed as personal-injury actions on behalf of long-dead individuals and dozens more failed to satisfy the most elementary requirements of membership in the decertified Engle class action, such as being brought on behalf of a smoker or a Florida resident.

The court appointed the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida as Special Master charged with investigating the conduct of plaintiffs' counsel. The Special Master ultimately determined that 1,250 of the approximately 3,700 cases brought by plaintiffs' counsel were frivolous and recommended sanctions. The court agreed with the Special Master's factual findings. Noting that the frivolous complaints filed by counsel "burdened the Court for years, and required both the Court and the defendants to expend significant additional resources," the four-judge panel ordered counsel to pay a sanction of almost $9.2 million (equal to the cost to the court and Special Master of handling the 1,250 frivolous cases), referred the matter to the Florida Bar for further investigation, and published its order as a form of "public reprimand."

In Re: Engle Cases, No. 3:09-cv-10000 (M.D. Fla.)