The aftermath from metal found in Skoal: One recall, two lawsuits and three firings

By Gabriel Neves | Apr 1, 2019

ERIE -- An Erie County man is, without a lawyer, suing a tobacco company, alleging that in its smokeless product he found some pieces of metal.

Jonathan Altadonna's lawsuit against US Smokeless Tobacco Company is a new development stemming from a 2016-17 incident at a company facility in Illinois that resulted in a recall and the termination of three employees.

It appears to be the first lawsuit alleging a bodily injury and was originally filed in Erie County Court of Common Pleas. On March 19, USST removed the case to Erie federal court.

As stated in the complaint, Altadonna purchased a sleeve of Skoal Xtra pouches in January 2017. After, he says "he noticed a sore throat, spitting up blood and a large amount of blood in bowel movements."

Altadonna says he visited his primary case physician on Jan. 24, 2017, where he took an x-ray of his chest. One week later, per the complaint, defendant "issued a recall of certain smokeless tobacco products, pertaining to customer complaint of foreign metal objects in cans."

That recall forced Altadonna to see his doctor again, who referred him to a cardiologist for further examination.

"After several tests the diagnosis was Ventricular Premature Depolarization, new onset, and Ventricular Tachycardia. Also increased panic and anxiety from the consumption of the tainted product," the complaint said.

The complaint also stated that US Smokeless Tobacco Company was "100 percent responsible" for Altadonna's health issues.

Three employees were fired over the incident leading to the recall.

It started when Altria announced it would be closing a plant in Franklin Park, Illinois, and installed more security cameras there. The plant employed about 300 workers and the issue involved non-product material being found.

Christopher and Michael Schreiner and Mark Cortino were investigated. The company broke into their toolboxes without union representatives present. A SWAT team also stormed Cortino's house and zip-tied him and his children for 45 minutes.

The FDA was involved and it became a criminal matter.

All three were terminated on May 15, 2017.

They sued USST and Altria for breach of contract, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

U.S. District Judge Sara L. Ellis dismissed the case last year, stating that "because it appears that some form of grievance proceeding may be underway, and to allow Plaintiffs the opportunity to consider how best to proceed on their claims in light of the court’s preemption findings, the court will dismiss Plaintiffs’ complaint without prejudice as preempted by § 301 of the LMRA [Labor Management Relations Act]."

The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, with the defendants filing a motion to dismiss in October.

As stated in the motion, the three "merely re-hashed their prior allegations and added a handful of bare legal conclusions, none of which suffice to state a claim."

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Erie County Court of Common Pleas U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

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