Cases & Deals

R.J. Reynolds secures Florida Supreme Court victory on fraudulent concealment claims

Clients R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

Jones Day successfully represented R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company before the Florida Supreme Court in an appeal concerning the reliance element of claims for fraudulent concealment and conspiracy to fraudulently conceal in Engle progeny cases. In Prentice v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the Supreme Court held that under Florida law, an Engle progeny plaintiff can prevail on a claim for fraudulent concealment or conspiracy to fraudulently conceal only if the plaintiff proves reliance on a statement that concealed or omitted material information about the health effects or addictive nature of smoking. Several intermediate courts had held that a plaintiff need not make that showing, but Jones Day persuaded the First District Court of Appeal to hold to the contrary.

The Supreme Court agreed with the First District. The Supreme Court explained that the "only way for an Engle progeny plaintiff to prove reliance (and therefore causation) is to show that he received, believed, and acted upon statements that omitted the material information." The Court rejected Plaintiff's argument that an Engle progeny plaintiff's "burden on causation is to prove reliance on silence." The Court explained that Engle defendants do not have a freestanding disclosure obligation and so cannot be held liable for mere silence.

The Court also disagreed with Plaintiff's argument that requiring Engle progeny plaintiffs to prove reliance on a statement disregards the fact that, having chosen to speak, the Engle defendants "took on a duty to disclose." The Court explained that it does "not question" that the Engle defendants, by making public statements, took on a duty to tell the whole truth. But still, the jury must find that the breach of that duty "caused harm to the plaintiff"—which means that the plaintiff must show reliance on a half-truth caused his injury. The Court therefore rejected Plaintiff's argument that "the decisive question here is 'whether the plaintiff would have behaved the same way had she known the true facts,'" without regard to the source of the smoker's misconceptions.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company v. Prentice, No. 1D17-2104 (Fla. 1st DCA); Prentice v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, No. SC20-291 (Fla.)