by Joe Wilhelm Jr.
A summary judgment in its favor helped R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. avoid trial in a recent Engle Progeny case in the Fourth Judicial Circuit.
Senior Circuit Judge Frederic Buttner granted the motion by the defendant, Reynolds, for summary judgment July 7 after finding that the plaintiff, Lewis Castleman, was not a member of the class described in Engle v. Liggett Group Inc.
“Engle class membership requires notice of a causal link between disease and cigarette smoking prior to Nov. 21, 1996: there is neither evidence nor reasonable inference on this record to
support a finding that Mr. Castleman had any such notice before Nov. 21, 1996,” stated Buttner in the judgment.
The November date is important because the Florida Supreme Court ruled in its Dec. 21, 2006, opinion that the date should be the deadline for class membership because it was the day the trial court recertified a smaller class of Engle v. Liggett Group Inc.
The class originally included U.S. citizens, residents and their survivors, but the class was recertified by the Third District Court of Appeal to a narrower group of Florida citizens and residents.
That opinion also created the Engle Progeny cases when the class action was decertified by the Supreme Court.
That broke up the class action but allowed members a year to file individual lawsuits, called Engle Progeny cases.
In the recent circuit case, according to court records, Castleman began smoking cigarettes at age 19 in 1953 and continued until 1983.
He argued that the cigarette smoking contributed to the development of health problems with his heart and lungs.
Castleman testified that he underwent heart bypass surgery in 1998 and had been experiencing shortness of breath in the early 1990s.
Buttner’s judgment stated that in order to be a part of the Engle class, Castleman not only needed to have exhibited symptoms of the diagnosed diseases by Nov. 21, 1996, the deadline to be considered for the class action, but he must have also been notified prior to that date that the ailments were connected to cigarette smoking.
The plaintiff stated that Engle can be interpreted in different ways and plans to appeal the judgment.
“Castleman was diagnosed in a certain period of time and we believe his manifestation symptoms occurred in an allowable time period,” said Linnes Finney, the plaintiff’s attorney.
“The court read the Engle opinion to mean that he would have had to know that those symptoms were related to smoking-related illness. We disagree, with respect to the court, and we will let the appellate court make the decision,” said Finney.
“People can differ in their interpretation of Engle, and that’s one of the reasons we are taking the appeal, so we can get a clearer opinion of what the (Florida) Supreme Court meant,” he said.
Either side can ask for a summary judgment. It is a decision made on the basis of statements and evidence presented to the court before a trial.
It is used when the facts of the case are not in dispute and one party is entitled to the judgment as a matter of law.