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Cassady v. RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Dublin Division

July 18, 2014

R.J. REYNOLDS TOBACCO CO., et al., Defendants.


BRIAN K. EPPS, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, an inmate at Johnson State Prison in Wrightsville, Georgia, commenced the above-captioned case pro se on December 16, 2013, alleging injuries caused by inhaling secondhand cigarette smoke while imprisoned. (See generally doc. no. 1.) Plaintiff invokes this Court's jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1332(a)(1) because the amount in controversy purportedly exceeds $75, 000 and Plaintiff and Defendants are citizens of different States. (Doc. no. 1, pp. 1-2.) Because he is proceeding in forma pauperis , Plaintiff's complaint must be screened to protect potential defendants. Phillips v. Mashburn , 746 F.2d 782, 785 (11th Cir. 1984).



Taking all of Plaintiff's factual allegations as true, as the Court must for purposes of the present screening, the facts are as follows. Plaintiff, who has been incarcerated within the Georgia Department of Corrections for approximately twenty-one years, entered prison as a healthy non-smoker, free from respiratory ailments of any kind. (Doc. no. 1, p. 12.) During his confinement, Plaintiff has been exposed to dangerous levels of toxic secondhand smoke by roommates and other inmates smoking tobacco products manufactured by Defendants. ( Id. at 15.) Plaintiff began to experience breathing problems in 2007 and in 2008 a physician's assistant at Coastal State Prison in Garden City, Georgia noted abnormal lung sounds and referred plaintiff to a physician for an x-ray of his chest. (Id.) Since that time, Plaintiff has been diagnosed with increasingly serious lung ailments, culminating in a diagnosis of fibrosis on June 17, 2013. ( Id. at 15-21.)

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants "have a[n] owed duty and corporate obligation... to protect non-consumers from impending health dangers or injury directly or indirectly caused by their tobacco products." ( Id. at 3.) Since 1986, the United States Surgeon General has published numerous reports regarding the health effects of involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke. ( Id. at 4-7.) Moreover, numerous lawsuits "involving tobacco related illness, disease and death in the United States have been filed." ( Id. at 7.) This includes lawsuits filed by states seeking billions in damages. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, four major tobacco companies settled these suits in 1998 for more than $200 billion. (Id.) Despite these events, Defendants have continued to breach their duty to protect nonsmokers by "reasonably reduc[ing] the amount of toxic chemicals used in manufacturing their tobacco products." ( Id. at 8.)

Defendants' breach of their duty is purportedly evidenced by their "refusal to fashion supplemental warning labels to become compliant with the Surgeon General's findings reflecting the impending life threatening danger of the exposure of nonsmokers to tobacco smoke." (Id.) Defendants' marketing, advertising, and product label packaging "fail to meet his simple, yet life saving [sic] standard." (Id.) Plaintiff states he wrote three letters to Defendants, in 1998, 2007, and -, suggesting they change the labels on their products to include a health warning regarding the effects of tobacco smoke on non-smokers. ( Id. at 12-14.) These letters were largely ignored (Id.)

Moreover, despite the Defendants' knowledge of the dangers to non-smokers, they "have hidden these truths from the public for quite some time." ( Id. at 9.) Defendants have engaged in a "unified campaign of misinformation and denials regarding the dangerousness of their products upon nonsmokers who[, ] unwittingly, are subject to it." (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have engaged in the following "dishonest and gross negligent activities in violation of Georgia's tort laws":

1. Failing to inform the public of evidence known to them regarding the health hazards related to exposure to secondhand smoke;
2. Fashioning advertising and promotional campaigns that were misleading, or intentionally omitted facts known by Defendants of the danger of being exposed to secondhand smoke in order to deceive the public;
3. Making implied misrepresentations that tobacco products are safe and free from harmful effects, contrary to facts known by Defendants;
4. Conspiring to conceal, and suppress scientific research on the deadly effect of involuntary exposure of nonsmokers to tobacco smoke;
5. Knowingly manufacturing and selling tobacco "for decades" that caused both serious and fatal health ...

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