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In 2009, President Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act) into law. The Act, by requiring “larger and more visible warnings” both on packages and in advertisements and “disclosure of ingredients of tobacco products”, enabled the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to impose more strict regulations over the tobacco industry. As a result, the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) was established. Most of its twelve members were required to have expertise in “medicine, medical ethics, science, or technology involving the manufacture, evaluation, or use of tobacco products.”The Committee was responsible for reviewing the impacts of tobacco products, particularly the use of menthol in cigarettes, on public health and safety and submitting a final report as the result of their evaluation. Recently, led by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, a group of tobacco manufacturers filed a lawsuit against the FDA claiming that the Agency violated the law because the Committee appointed included three members who had financial interests that were contrary to the plaintiffs’ business interests.
The District Court for the District of Columbia decided in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the FDA to dissolve the Committee and banned the use of the menthol report submitted by the Committee. The court confirmed that the three challenged members did give testimony that opposed the plaintiffs and that they benefitted from their “expert witness businesses” with billings “[ranging] as high as $ 50-60,000 per case.” Moreover, they all had connections with producers of smoking cessation products, the primary competitors of tobacco manufacturers.
However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit) later reversed the district court’s decision because of lack of jurisdiction. The plaintiffs originally claimed three injuries: 1) the risk posed by potential improper control by the FDA over menthol tobacco products; 2) the possible misuse of the plaintiffs’ confidential information to harm them, and 3) the confrontation with the use of the Committee’s report in the testimony as well as deterioration of reputation. Despite that the district court found it convincing, the D.C. Circuit held that the plaintiffs failed the three-part test for standing established in a precedent case, Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 1) an injury-in-fact; 2) causation; and 3) redressability. The plaintiffs’ alleged injuries, according to the D.C. Circuit, were neither “actual” nor “imminent”, which was required by the three-step inquiry. Therefore, the court of appeals reversed.
The D.C. Circuit has been renowned for its authority to review regulations of many federal independent agencies and thus became more powerful than any of the other U.S. courts of appeals. The law of standing helps decide whether a plaintiff has the legal right to bring a suit. One has to establish both the constitutional and the prudential requirements to gain legal standing. The dismissal of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company v. U.S. Food and Drug Administration demonstrated the significance of avoiding standing defenses in pleadings. Unless the plaintiffs satisfy the requirements of standing, the case could be dismissed by the courts without considering the merits of the claims.
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