Brief Fact Summary. The Plaintiff, Cipollone (Plaintiff) sued the Defendant, the Liggett Group, Inc. (Defendant) on behalf of his deceased mother for various state common law claims because of her death from the hazards of smoking. The Defendant asserted that federal statutes preempted the claims.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Federal statutory law, which contains express preemptive language, may be interpreted to preempt some, but no all, state common-law claims.
Held. Yes, the Supreme Court interprets the express preemptive clause in the federal statute and bars certain state law claims.
Dissent. and Concurrence. Justice Harry Blackman (J. Blackmun), Justice Anthony Kennedy (J. Kennedy) and Justice David Souter (J. Souter) felt that the decision is a compromise position concerning the extent of federal law preemption.
The dissenting judges felt the Supreme Court cannot infer a scope of preemption beyond which is clearly mandated by Congress’ language.
Discussion. Under the Supremacy Clause, the laws of the United States “shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” It is well established than any state law, which conflicts with federal law is without and effect and Congress’ intent may be explicitly stated in the statute. The preemptive scope of the 1969 Act is expressly stated. It bars not just “statements” but “requirements or prohibitions imposed under the State law,” and reaches beyond statements in “advertising” to obligations “with respect to the advertising or promotion” of cigarettes. The Supreme Court disagreed with both the Plaintiff and the Defendant and held that the 1969 Act did materially alter the preemptive scope of the federal law. The Supreme Court also disagreed with the Plaintiff that the federal statute does not preempt his common law actions because Congress intended only to trump state statutes, injunctions or executive pronouncements. The phrase, “no requirement or prohibition” sweeps broadly and suggests no dist
inction between positive enactments and common law. To the contrary, these words easily encompass obligations that take the form of common-law rules. Further, the phrase, “imposed under State law” does not exclude the common-law rules from the reach of the federal provision, since the phrase “state law” includes common law as well as statutes and regulations. Just because the preemptive scope of the federal Act cannot be limited to positive enactments does not mean that the section preempts common law claims. The Supreme Court held, therefore, that the 1969 Act preempts the Plaintiff’s claims based on a failure to warn and the neutralization of federally mandated warnings to the extent that those claims rely on omissions or inclusions in the Defendant’s advertising or promotions. However, the 1969 Act does not preempt the Plaintiff’s claims based on express warranty, intentional fraud and misrepresentation or conspiracy. This was bad for the tobacco companies.