Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cornell's LII Bulletin Previews SCOTUS Argument in Philip Morris v. Williams

Philip Morris U.S.A. v. Williams (07-1216)
Oral argument: Dec. 3, 2008
Appealed from: Oregon Supreme Court (Mar. 24, 2008)

In 1997, Mayola Williams's husband Jesse Williams died from lung cancer as a result of smoking cigarettes manufactured and marketed by Philip Morris USA Inc. Mayola Williams sued Philip
Morris alleging negligence, strict product liability, and fraud. At trial, the court rejected Philip Morris's request for a jury instruction on punitive damages which stated that Philip Morris
could not be punished for harms suffered by nonparties. The jury awarded Williams $79.5 million dollars in punitive damages. In Philip Morris USA v. Williams ("Williams II"), the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the decision of the Oregon Supreme Court upholding this award and instructed the lower court to apply its standard of prohibiting punishment of a defendant for damage to nonparties. On remand, the Oregon Supreme Court upheld its decision, finding that a state procedural law not previously addressed justified the trial judge's denial of the requested
instruction. In this case, the Court will decide whether a lower court can decline to apply a standard that the Court has articulated and instead uphold its ruling on state procedural law
grounds. This decision will affect the Supreme Court's institutional supremacy and state courts' treatment of punitive damages awards.


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