R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company et al v. County of Los Angeles et al. (2020)

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No. 2:20-cv-04880 (C.D. Cal. Jun 01, 2020)

(Appeal) No. 20-55930 (9th Cir. Sep 08, 2020)


On June 1, 2020, R.J. Reynolds, American Snuff Company, and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company filed a lawsuit against the County of Los Angeles’ ordinance prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco. Los Angeles’ ordinance, which went into effect on May 1, 2020, prohibits the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, smokeless products, and menthol-flavored products.

The plaintiffs’ lawsuit alleged that:

  1. Los Angeles’ ordinance is preempted by the Tobacco Control Act (TCA) because the TCA preempts local and state governments from regulating the ingredients and additives that go into tobacco products (tobacco product standards); and
  2. Los Angeles’ law is impliedly preempted by the TCA because the TCA charges the FDA with promulgating tobacco product standards. Any attempt to create tobacco product standards by a local jurisdiction, the plaintiffs argue,“stands as an obstacle to the purposes of federal law.” Specifically, the plaintiffs argue, Los Angeles’ ordinance prohibits the sale of menthol cigarettes, which the TCA specifically allows, creating a conflict between the two.

The plaintiffs also requested a preliminary injunction from the court, which would have temporarily stopped the County from enforcing its ordinance against menthol cigarettes or flavored smokeless tobacco products. The motion was denied.

This lawsuit was filed almost one month after an earlier lawsuit was filed against the same Los Angeles ordinance by the CA Smoke and Vape Association. Both cases were heard by the same judge, and the CA Smoke and Vape Association case was also dismissed for the same reasons on August 7, 2020.

District Court Decision

On August 7, 2020, the case was dismissed along with the CA Smoke & Vape Association challenge to the same ordinance. The court granted the County’s motion to dismiss, stating in its order that “the Ordinance is not expressly preempted by [the Tobacco Control Act] because it does not regulate tobacco product standards and therefore is protected by the Preservation Clause, which permits states and localities to prohibit the sale of  tobacco products even if those sales bans are stricter than federal law.” Further, the ordinance is also not impliedly preempted by federal law, because the statute “expressly gives state and local governments the power to prohibit the sale of tobacco products.” Because the plaintiffs had failed to allege any set of facts that “plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief,” the court dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning that the case cannot be refiled. The court also required the industry plaintiffs to pay the County’s costs associated with the case, which includes costs such as filing fees, copying and printing fees, and docket fees.

Litigation Status

R.J. Reynolds appealed the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on September 8, 2020. Briefing is set to occur during November and early December, 2020.

Last Updated on September 30, 2020