WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court agreed to consider whether tobacco companies can be protected from state-court judgments since cigarettes are regulated by the federal government.
In one of four appeals they accepted yesterday, the justices had been asked to decide whether lawsuits that accuse cigarette-makers of wrongdoing can be shifted out of state court and into federal court, under a special provision.
That's what happened in Arkansas, where Philip Morris was sued in a class-action case alleging that the company violated state law in marketing its "light" cigarettes. The suit contended that the cigarettes were more dangerous than the company advertised. Tobacco companies have faced similar suits around the country.
The suit covered people who used Marlboro Lights and Cambridge Lights.
Philip Morris sought to have the case moved into federal court under a "federal officer" provision that allows suits against federal officials to be kept out of state courts.
Federal courts are more desirable to corporations facing lawsuits, in part because state juries in some parts of the country are considered more likely to return large damage awards.
The company contends that its marketing of cigarettes under the regulation of the Federal Trade Commission made it a "person acting under" a federal officer.
David Frederick, the Washington lawyer representing those who sued, said that allowing the case's move to federal court would hurt state authority to ensure that its citizens are protected under its own laws.
"FTC regulation of light cigarettes is anything but extraordinary," Frederick wrote.