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SCOTUS tosses out cigarette challenge

From NBC's Pete Williams

Ending a marathon legal battle with a fizzle, the U.S. Supreme Court today tossed out a challenge from cigarette-maker Philip Morris to an Oregon jury's $80 million verdict in a lawsuit filed by a smoker's window.

Today's action sets no legal precedent. The court, after hearing the case in early December, decided there was no issue for the justices to resolve. This kind of disposition of a case happens a few times every term -- after agreeing to hear a case and delving into its specifics, the court decides it shouldn't have taken it after all. In the wonderfully passive language of the Supreme Court, the case is "dismissed as improvidently granted."

The case involved an Oregon man, Jesse Williams, who died of lung cancer after smoking two packs of Marlboros a day his entire adult life. His wife sued Philip Morris, claiming the company lied about the dangers of smoking. Her lawyers urged the jury to hit the company hard -- not just for him but on behalf of other smokers, too. Result: a verdict of over $800,000 in actual damages and another amount -- 100 times higher -- to punish the company.

The court today also ruled unanimously that when Congress in 1993 issued a resolution apologizing for the US government's overthrow of the king of Hawaii in 1893, it did not create any legal right to native lands. 

We'll get decisions again on Wednesday.