Monday, October 16, 2006
An interesting comment by Jenny Miao Jiang (a 2006 Boalt Hall graduate) on the subject of punitive damages. The very short version of her argument is that something like the Federal Sentencing Guidelines should be used to bring control to punitive damages. The abstract:
Punitive damages law was traditionally an area of jurisprudence reserved for the states. In the early 1990s, the United States Supreme Court constitutionalized this area of law and began subjecting punitive damages awards to due process limitations. In so doing, the Court sought to: (1) curb the arbitrary nature of punitive damages awards; and (2) promulgate uniform rules and procedures to govern the imposition of such awards nationwide.
This Comment argues that the Supreme Court has failed to bring uniformity to punitive damages law and proposes an alternative framework to address the problem of unwarranted disparate awards. Specifically, this Comment suggests that we import concepts from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines to the punitive damages context and apply a numerical scale, rather than narrative standards, to determine civil defendants' punitive damages liability. In short, this Comment argues that just as the Federal Sentencing Guidelines have brought substantial uniformity to criminal sentencing, guidelines adopted in and tailored to the civil context could potentially bring uniformity to the highly volatile area of punitive damages law.
The Supreme Court's recent decision in State Farm v. Campbell has renewed the escalating debate regarding the standard, scope, and constitutional authority underlying the Court's punitive damages jurisprudence. Although this Comment cannot hope to resolve this debate, it seeks to push the current dialogue on punitive damages law towards a more constructive direction.