Robins Kaplan Blocks Effort by Juul and Altria to Sidestep Blame for Minnesota’s Youth Vaping Epidemic
Robins Kaplan LLP and its co-counsel continue to rack up victories against JUUL Labs, Inc. and Altria Group Inc. (and four of Altria’s subsidiaries) in the lawsuit brought by the Minnesota Attorney General addressing the state’s youth vaping epidemic. On June 21, 2021, Judge Laurie Miller of the Hennepin County District Court denied motions brought by JUUL and Altria to dismiss the state’s claims. The motions were argued by partners Tara Sutton and Munir Meghjee in the firm’s Mass Tort Group.
The Minnesota Attorney General initially brought claims against JUUL alone but later amended its complaint to add tobacco conglomerate Altria, alleging that it extended JUUL’s reach in Minnesota through sales, distribution, marketing, and promotion services provided to JUUL. (In December 2018, tobacco giant Altria—the owner of Philip Morris and other major cigarette brands—bought a 35% stake in JUUL for nearly $13 billion). Under the parties’ various agreements, Altria agreed to provide JUUL access to its prime retail “shelf space,” its vast sales force, and its enormous distribution network. Altria also included JUUL advertisements on Altria cigarette packs known to be most popular among youth and leveraged its vast tobacco database to send direct e-mail and mail advertisements to Minnesota consumers.
In February 2020, JUUL and Altria brought separate motions to dismiss, both challenging the Attorney General’s authority and alleging defects in each of the state’s eight causes of action. In rejecting the defendants’ motions, Judge Miller confirmed the Attorney General’s statutory authority to bring public nuisance claims for abatement and the pleading standard applicable to consumer protection claims brought by the Minnesota Attorney General. The court also found that all of the state’s claims had been adequately pled, including the state’s negligence, unjust enrichment, and civil conspiracy claims, and that none of the state’s claims were preempted by federal law. And while the court deferred ruling on Altria’s personal jurisdiction arguments until the completion of jurisdictional discovery, Altria later withdrew its personal jurisdiction arguments. The case currently has a trial date set for July 2022.
You can find more about the state’s lawsuit here: https://www.ag.state.mn.us/Office/Communications/2019/12/04_JUUL.asp and here: https://www.ag.state.mn.us/Office/Communications/2020/12/10_JUUL.asp
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