WASHINGTON – The Justice Department on Friday asked a federal appeals court to reconsider a panel’s decision to bar the government from seeking $280 billion from cigarette companies in a civil racketeering lawsuit.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 2-1 last month that the RICO statute under which the case was filed required “forward-looking remedies” and seeking the money was not one.
In asking the full appeals court to hear the case, the Justice Department argued the panel’s decision was out of step with legal precedents and could damage the strength of the RICO law designed to prosecute mobsters.
“The statute involved is the government’s most potent weapon for combating organized crime and the issue arises in the biggest civil RICO action the government has ever brought,” the Justice Department wrote in its filing.
The Justice Department sued major U.S. tobacco companies in 1999, alleging the tobacco industry engaged in a five-decade conspiracy to conceal the health dangers of smoking.
In addition to seeking $280 billion, the government has asked U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler to impose other penalties, including requiring the companies to pay for smoking cessation programs and public education campaigns about the dangers of smoking.