Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The New York Times reports that the U.S. Supreme Court has granted cert in the Exxon punitive damages case arising out of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska back in 1989:
A jury in Federal District Court in Alaska had awarded $5 billion, which the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit cut in half in a decision issued last December. It was the biggest punitive damages award ever ordered by a federal appeals court, and was five times the economic damage of $500 million suffered by the class of 32,000 plaintiffs.
Exxon argued in its appeal to the Supreme Court that given the nearly $3.5 billion the company had already paid in environmental cleanup costs, fines and settlements of private claims, the $2.5 billion was outside the boundary of constitutional due process that the court has drawn in recent decisions overturning other punitive damage awards.
In accepting the appeal, however, the justices granted review only on three statutory questions focused on maritime law. As a result, while the case will be of interest to the shipping industry, the decision will shed little light on the constitutional framework that the Supreme Court intends to apply to the question of punitive damages. The case is scheduled to be argued in February and decided by early summer.
SCOTUSblog has a thorough post analyzing the cert grant with links to the briefs.