Soto v. Philip Morris U.S., Inc.

In this case, plaintiff Elminio Soto brought claims against various cigarette manufacturers and retailers, including Philip Morris USA, Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Liggett Group LLC, and others. After voluntary dismissals of Liggett Group and others, five Defendants remained in the case. 

The plaintiff charged that the defendants deliberately engaged in designing, manufacturing, advertising, marketing, and distributing cigarette products knowing full well that they can cause bodily harm. Soto alleged that his laryngeal cancer was the result of their advertisement campaigns, which persuaded him to start smoking cigarettes. (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 4). 

In total, the plaintiff brought six claims against R.J. Reynolds, which included: 

  • Strict products liability
  • Negligent performance of a voluntary undertaking
  • Negligence
  • Breach of implied warranty of merchantability
  • Fraudulent concealment and misrepresentation  
  • Civil conspiracy

The plaintiff also brought fraudulent concealment and misrepresentation and civil conspiracy charges against Philip Morris USA, amongst other charges for the other defendants. 


In regard to Mr. Soto’s strict products liability charges against the tobacco companies, it was discovered that the lawsuit was filed outside the two-year limit. Under Virgin Islands law, however, the discovery rule can be applied to strict products liability claims.

The main issue involves the time at which Mr. Soto was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer and whether that time frame would affect the strict products liability claims and subsequent discovery approach. Beyond that, the claim that the defendants “made false or misleading statements” through media campaigns about the safety of cigarette consumption required a comprehensive investigation.

Philip Morris USA claimed that the discovery rule does not apply to the “breach of implied warranty of merchantability” claim. While the Supreme Court has not taken a firm stance on the issue, it is worth noting that a Supreme Court judge previously found such claims are covered by the discovery rule.

Judge sitting on the bench


After taking into consideration all of the presented information, the court determined that the defendant (Philip Morris USA) was not able to prove fraudulent joinder. The diversity jurisdiction was defeated due to the Virgin Islands citizenship of Mr. Soto and the tobacco companies. As such, the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction, and the case was remanded to the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands. The plaintiff’s motion to remand the case was ultimately approved by the court. 

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