Great news, civil justice fans! Yesterday, in a much anticipated decision, the California Supreme Court reversed two lower court decisions, ruling that a class-action suit for deceptive advertising can go forward
against a consortium of big tobacco companies (including our old friends at Altria).
This decision is incredibly significant on a number of levels. Fundamentally, of course, it’s great because class-actions are a crucial consumer protection tool. But where California is concerned, this decision is far more important.
That’s because a horrendous 2004 voter initiative (known as Proposition 64), which Big Business spent $16 million to pass – five times as much as opponents – made it extremely difficult for consumers to sue over unfair business practices and other corporate misconduct. It barred consumers from suing to prevent broad public harm – unless they had been individually hurt. In the words of consumer advocate Harvey Rosenfield, Prop. 64 was “[A] broad assault on consumer protection laws by the defendants' lobby, with the growing support of the judicial branch.”
But in allowing the tobacco class action to go forward (so long as a “representative plaintiff” for the class meets Prop. 64’s rigid requirements), the California Supreme Court rejected Big Business’s view of the law. Otherwise, it said, Prop. 64 "would effectively eliminate the class-action lawsuit as a vehicle for the vindication of (consumer) rights."