Tuesday, October 30, 2007

SCOTUS Grants Cert in Punitive Damages Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the $2.5 billion punitive damages award in Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, a case arising out of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Here are the questions presented in the case:

(1) May punitive damages be imposed under maritime law against shipowner (as Ninth Circuit held, contrary to decisions of First, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits) for conduct of ship's master at sea, absent finding that owner directed, countenanced, or participated in that conduct, and even when conduct was contrary to policies established and enforced by owner?

(2) When Congress has specified criminal and civil penalties for maritime conduct in controlling statute, here Clean Water Act, but has not provided for punitive damages, may judge-made federal maritime law (as Ninth Circuit held, contrary to decisions of First, Second, Fifth, and Sixth Circuits) expand penalties Congress provided by adding punitive damages remedy?

(3) Is $2.5 billion punitive damages award in this case, which is larger than total of all punitive damages awards affirmed by all federal appellate courts in our history, within limits allowed by federal maritime law?


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