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IN RE TOBACCO/GOVERNMENTAL HEALTH CARE COSTS

December 30, 1999

IN RE TOBACCO/GOVERNMENTAL HEALTH CARE COSTS LITIGATION. THE REPUBLIC OF GUATEMALA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE TOBACCO INSTITUTE, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman, District Judge.

OPINION

The Republic of Guatemala has brought suit in this Court against nine individual tobacco companies and the tobacco industry's public relations and research organizations. Guatemala claims that it failed to regulate the use of tobacco products by its citizens adequately because of the tobacco industry's continued misrepresentations and anticompetitive behavior regarding the health impacts of tobacco. It seeks to recover the health care costs it incurred in treating its citizens' smoking-related illnesses. The Court will dismiss all of Guatemala's claims because the alleged injury is too remote and completely derivative of the injuries suffered by individual Guatemalan smokers.

I. BACKGROUND

The Republic of Guatemala is a sovereign Central American nation with a population of approximately ten million people. Under its constitution, Guatemala must guarantee its citizens the enjoyment of their fundamental rights, including the enjoyment of their health. Guatemala consequently provides a number of free health benefits and services to its citizens, including medical treatment in public clinics and hospitals throughout the country.

Guatemala asserts that it incurred unnecessarily high health-care costs between 1973 and 1997 because it was misled by the defendants about the health risks associated with smoking. It maintains that since the 1950's the defendants have conspired together to conceal and misrepresent the health risks of smoking and the addictive nature of nicotine, to manipulate nicotine levels in cigarettes in order to maintain addiction, to stop using health-related issues to compete with one another, and to suppress the market for less harmful cigarettes. Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint ("Am.Compl.") ¶ 69. As a result of this conspiracy, Guatemala allegedly did not take regulatory action to reduce cigarette smoking by its citizens and to mitigate the harmful effects of the cigarettes its citizens smoked, thereby causing Guatemalan citizens to be stricken with more smoking-related illnesses and causing Guatemala to have to pay a greater amount of associated health care costs. Id. ¶¶ 79-84.

Guatemala has sued a group of companies affiliated with Philip Morris (Philip Morris Companies, Philip Morris Incorporated and Philip Morris International); a group of companies affiliated with the British American Tobacco Corporation (BAT Industries, BATCo, BATUS Holdings and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation); two companies affiliated with the Liggett Group (Liggett Group and Brooke Group Limited); the Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research-U.S.A. It has not sued Tabacalera Centroamericana, S.A., a subsidiary of Philip Morris, and Tabacalera Nacional, S.A., a subsidiary of the British American Tobacco Corporation, the only two companies that do business directly in Guatemala.

As alleged, Guatemala's injury "is not a form of compensation for personal injuries suffered by those Guatemalan residents who smoke the cigarettes [d]efendants advertise, manufacture, distribute and/or sell in Guatemala. It is a direct injury to Guatemala's property and is separate and wholly distinct from the harms suffered by Guatemalan residents." Am.Compl. ¶ 132. In particular, because the industry's misrepresentations purportedly caused Guatemala to permit more smoking by its citizens than it would have permitted had it known the truth, and because the defendants allegedly suppressed the introduction of less harmful cigarettes, Guatemala claims that it incurred over $300 million in unnecessary health care costs between 1973 and 1997. Id. ¶¶ 82, 83. Guatemala brings its claims for relief on six separate theories: (1) common law fraud and intentional misrepresentation, (2) conspiracy to commit fraud and misrepresentation, (3) violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), (4) violations of both federal and District of Columbia antitrust laws through the suppression of competition in the cigarette and health care markets, (5) negligent misrepresentation, negligence and gross negligence, and (6) negligent performance of a voluntary undertaking.

BAT Industries, BATCo, and BATUS Holdings (the "Rule 12(b)(2) defendants") moved to dismiss the complaint as against them for lack of personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. All the other defendants except Liggett and Brooke Group Limited (the "Rule 12(b)(6) defendants") moved to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim. At Guatemala's request, the Court allowed limited jurisdictional discovery regarding the Rule 12(b)(2) defendants' arguments respecting personal jurisdiction. Guatemala was permitted to file an amended complaint at the close of discovery, and the parties' motions then were updated for the amended complaint and to take account of the fruits of the jurisdictional discovery.

The Court now has before it defendants' motions to dismiss plaintiff's complaint on a number of grounds. While the Court has considered all of defendants' arguments, it need only address one. Upon consideration of the motions filed, the oppositions and replies, the oral argument of counsel at the March 19, 1999 hearing and the supplemental briefs filed after argument, the Court grants defendants' motion to dismiss all counts of Guatemala's complaint because all of Guatemala's alleged injuries are too remote to have been proximately caused by defendants' misconduct.*fn1

II. DISCUSSION

The Court may dismiss a complaint only if it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of its claim that would entitle it to relief. See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989) (quoting Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S.Ct. 2229, 81 L.Ed.2d 59 (1984)); Kowal v. MCI Communications Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C.Cir. 1994). The complaint must be liberally construed in the plaintiff's favor and the Court must accept any reasonable inferences derived from well-pleaded factual allegations. See Slaby v. Fairbridge, 3 F. Supp.2d 22, 27 (D.D.C. 1998). The Court need not accept plaintiff's inferences if they are unsupported by facts or its legal conclusions. Id.

A. Remoteness

Under the doctrine of remoteness, a plaintiff who complains of harm "flowing merely from the misfortunes visited upon a third person by the defendant's acts [is] generally said to stand at too remote a distance to recover." Holmes v. Securities Investor Protection Corp., 503 U.S. 258, 268-69, 112 S.Ct. 1311, 117 L.Ed.2d 532 (1992). The doctrine of remoteness is a component of proximate cause, which in turn embraces the concept that "the judicial remedy cannot encompass every conceivable harm that can be traced to alleged wrongdoing." Associated Gen. Contractors of California, Inc. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 536, 103 S.Ct. 897, 74 L.Ed.2d 723 (1983); see Steamfitters Local Union No. 420 Welfare Fund v. Philip Morris, Inc., 171 F.3d 912, 927 (3d Cir. 1999) ("Remoteness is an aspect of the proximate cause analysis, in that an injury that is too remote from its causal agent fails to satisfy tort law's proximate cause requirement . . .").

As one of the most elusive concepts found in the law, proximate cause does not lend itself to precise definition. "[T]he infinite variety of claims that may arise make it virtually impossible to announce a black-letter rule that will dictate the result in every case." Associated Gen. Contractors of California, Inc. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. at 536, 103 S.Ct. 897. The inquiry is "always to be determined on the facts of each case upon mixed considerations of logic, common sense, policy and precedent." Laborers Local 17 Health and Benefit Fund v. Philip Morris, Inc., 191 F.3d 229, 235 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting W. PAGE KEETON ET AL., PROSSER & KEETON ON THE LAW OF TORTS ยง 42 at 279 (5th ed. 1984)). To afford some guidance in this uncertain area, the courts have tried to "identify factors that circumscribe and guide the ...


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