Tuesday, October 31, 2006

SCT Series: Punitive Damages

Phillip Morris USA v. Williams is being argued today at the Supreme Court. As part of RJ's ongoing Supreme Court Series, Jim Chen previously posted this analysis of the case. Dan Markel over at Prawfsblawg offers this up to date summary of the issues presented:

"The issues before the Court today are twofold and they are among the most important questions the Court has yet to face in its adventure in tort regulation: first, whether the extreme reprehensibility of Philip Morris' actions can trump the two other parts of the SCT's 3 guideposts for constraining the amount of punitive damages (PD); and whether juries can consider the wrong done to non-parties in determining the amount of PD."

Philip Morris cigarettesAs pointed out in this New York Times editorial, the Court's constitutionalization of punitive damages caps in BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance v. Campbell generated unusual alignments of justices. In Campbell, for example, Justices Kennedy wrote an opinion, joined by Jusices Rehnquist, O'Connor, Breyer, Stevens and Souter, holding that "excessive" punitive damages awards violate the 14th Amendment's due process clause. Justices Scalia, Thomas and Ginsburg dissented, arguing that the Court had no business reading such a limit into the 14th Amendment.

As the Wall Street Journal blog pointed out at the beginning of the Term, this case will give us a hint of just what type of judicial conservatives Justices Roberts and Alito are. Will they vote with Scalia and Thomas in opposition to the Court's creation of new constitutional rights, or will they follow in the footsteps of the justices they replaced - Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice O'Connor - and continue the Court's constitutionalization of tort law?

Scotusblog promises a recap of oral arguments sometime today.


Blogger Lori Ringhand said...

UPDATE: Scotusblog reports that the case might get kicked back to state court without resolution of the substantive issues presented.

10/31/2006 3:41 PM  

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