The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that smokers of light cigarettes can pursue a class-action lawsuit against Philip Morris USA based on the claim that the tobacco giant advertised Marlboro Lights as less harmful than other brands. The 4 to 3 decision marks the first time any state's highest court has allowed smokers to proceed with a class action against the industry over the marketing of light cigarettes. The case now returns to a lower court. Philip Morris said the ruling is limited to Massachusetts and will have no bearing on similar cases elsewhere.

Claritin Maker Admits Overbilling

Schering-Plough pleaded guilty to criminal charges that it overbilled the government's Medicaid program for Claritin allergy pills. Schering-Plough agreed to pay a criminal fine of $52.5 million and civil penalties of $293 million, the largest combined settlement ever negotiated by the U.S. attorney's office in Philadelphia. "I think the new management team is just happy to put this matter behind us," said Brent Saunders, Schering-Plough's chief compliance officer.

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Consumer confidence softened in mid-August amid a drop in consumers' views on the economic outlook, according to the University of Michigan's mid-month report on consumer sentiment. The main index decreased to 94.0, compared with 96.7 in July and 95.6 in June, according to people who had seen the report. The Michigan report is released only to subscribers. Separately, the Labor Department said wholesale prices edged up just 0.1 percent in July, as the largest drop in food costs in more than two years offset the biggest increase in energy prices in six months.

President Bush said the United States may file a complaint with the World Trade Organization about European subsidies to aircraft manufacturer Airbus. "I have instructed U.S. Trade Representative Bob Zoellick to inform European officials at their September meeting that we think those subsidies are unfair," Bush said after meeting with employees of Boeing, Airbus's chief competitor, in Seattle.

An appeals court agreed to review a trial judge's June decision that allowed 1.6 million female workers of Wal-Mart Stores to sue the company as a group. Lawyers for the women estimate that Wal-Mart could be liable for more than $1 billion if the workers win the case. Wal-Mart denies that it discriminated against female employees and argues that the class size is "unprecedented, unmanageable and unconstitutional." The class-action lawsuit claims that, since 1998, female employees at Wal-Mart were paid less than men and were offered fewer promotions.

Shell Oil has agreed to delay by six months, to March 31, the planned closing of a 72-year-old Bakersfield, Calif., oil refinery that produces 2 percent of the state's gasoline, to allow more time to find a buyer and negotiate a sale for the facility, state officials said. The decision to close the refinery is still under investigation by both the Federal Trade Commission and the state attorney general.

Calpers, the nation's largest public pension fund, plans a drive to rein in big severance packages for corporate executives that are triggered by the mergers they engineer. California Treasurer Philip Angelides and other members of the California Public Employees' Retirement System board plan to recruit other pension systems and shareholder groups nationwide to fight the recent escalation by targeting selected merger proposals for defeat next year.

EBay acquired about 25 percent of Craigslist, an online bulletin board, to tap its millions of users in 45 cities. Terms weren't disclosed. Craigslist offers free listings for people seeking jobs, housing, products and friends, eBay said in a written statement.

INTERNATIONAL

Hollinger International controlling shareholder Conrad Black lost an Ontario court bid to halt the newspaper publisher's lawsuits against him outside Canada pending a hearing in Toronto. Black, a defendant in claims including Hollinger International's $1.25 billion racketeering suit in Chicago, is embroiled in "a tangled web of litigation" and "the hoodwinking is alleged to have taken place in the U.S.," Judge James Farley of Ontario Superior Court wrote in an opinion. Hollinger International, which sold London's Daily Telegraph last month and still owns the Chicago Sun-Times, ousted Black as chief executive in November.

Compiled from reports by the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, Dow Jones News Service and Washington Post staff writers.