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Court Refuses To Revisit Tobacco Payment Decision

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Ian Dooley
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A state appeals court Friday refused to reconsider a ruling that said R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is responsible for paying more than $100 million in a dispute stemming from a landmark 1997 settlement between Florida and the tobacco industry.

R.J. Reynolds last month asked the 4th District Court of Appeal for a rehearing after a July 29 ruling by a three-judge panel of the court.

The case has centered on arguments by R.J. Reynolds that it should not be required to make payments to the state related to four brands of cigarettes - Salem, Winston, Kool and Maverick - that it sold to another company, ITG Brands LLC. But the appeals court in July upheld a decision by a Palm Beach County circuit judge, who said R.J. Reynolds remained on the hook for the payments under the 1997 settlement in which cigarette makers agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the state because of smoking-related health costs and, in exchange, received liability protections.

As is common, the South Florida appeals court Friday did not explain its reasons for refusing to reconsider the July ruling.

That ruling said the circuit judge ordered R.J. Reynolds to pay $92.6 million to the state and $9.8 million to Philip Morris USA, another tobacco company that became involved in the case because of increased payment obligations it faced. Philip Morris also was part of the 1997 settlement.

Attorney General Ashley Moody issued a statement Friday touting the outcome. “This monumental decision comes at an extremely vital time for our state as the coronavirus has taken a toll on Florida’s revenues,” Moody said. “I am thrilled with the Fourth DCA’s decision and glad our talented team of attorneys were able to ensure monies due to the state of Florida will be paid in full and the defendants cannot shirk their responsibilities.”