It went generally unnoticed last November when the California Supreme Court refused to review an intermediate court’s decision in Buell-Wilson v. Ford Motor Co. But then again, it went generally unnoticed when a jury awarded an arbitrary $368 million in damages in that case, when the trial judge reduced that verdict to an arbitrary $150 million judgment, and when an intermediate appellate court reduced that figure to an arbitrary $82.6 million (which, with interest, works out to over $100 million).
The US Supreme Court remanded to consider in light of Philip Morris v. Williams. For whatever reason, the California Court of Appeals decision to be even more disingenuous and say “We don’t care about Williams” reaffirming the $82.6 million got much more attention. Bruce Nye has the best analysis of the “thumb in your eye” decision; Lisa Perrochet also analyzes the verdict. John Rohan is critical. Press coverage: Recorder/Law.com; San Diego Union-Tribune; Reuters; AP/SJ Mercury News. Ford will appeal.
- Oregon Supreme Court plays chicken with SCOTUS over $79.5 million punitive damages award in Williams v. Philip Morris case. [Sebok @ Findlaw; Krauss @ IBD; POL Feb. 1]
- Speaking of punitive damages, I did a podcast on Exxon Shipping v. Baker. I can’t bear to listen to it, so let me know how I did. [Frank @ Fed Soc]
- Arkansas case alleged legal sale of pseudoephedrine was “nuisance” because meth-makers would buy it; case dismissed. [Beck/Herrmann]. This is why I’ve stockpiled Sudafed.
- Lawyers advertise for refinery explosion victims before fire goes out. [Hou Chron/TLR]
- Connecticut Supreme Court: cat-attack victim can sue without showing past history of violence by animal. [On Point] Looking forward to comments from all the anti-reformers who claim to oppose reform because they’re against the abrogation of the common law.
- Op-ed on the Great White fire deep pockets phenomenon. [SE Texas Record; earlier: Feb. 2]
- “FISA lawsuits come from Twilight Zone.” [Hillyer @ Examiner]
- Legislative action on various medical malpractice tweaking in Colorado, Hawaii, and Wyoming. [TortsProf]
- Request for unemployment benefits: why fire me just because I asked staffers for a prostitute? [Des Moines Register]
- “So much for seduction and romance; bring in the MBAs and lawyers.” [Mac Donald @ City Journal; contra Belle Lettre; contra contra Dank]
- Where is the Canadian Brandeis standing up for free speech? [Kay @ National Post]
- In defense of lobbying. [Krauthammer @ WaPo]
Erwin Chemerinsky writes a not-especially honest review of the most recent Supreme Court term. He falsely characterizes the Roberts Court as “a solid conservative voting majority,” notwithstanding the numerous decisions where conservatives were not in the majority, or where the majority decision fell far short of conservative ideals. He characterizes the divided Philip Morris v. Williams decision as “conservative,” even though it was Breyer and Souter in the majority and Scalia and Thomas in the dissent. He complains that conservatives “defer to the government in the face of most claims of individual rights,” but gives no mention of last term’s Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission, where five conservative justices reasserted first amendment rights for political speech over the dissent of Breyer, Souter, Ginsburg, and Stevens, who wanted to preserve the government ban on speech. We’ll ignore that Chemerinsky takes the typical liberal tactic of characterizing legal rules as favoring either businesses or consumers/employees—we all know darn well that many “pro-business” legal rules favor consumers and employees as a group ex ante.
Chemerinsky is entitled to his left-wing opinion, though one might justifiably complain that he’s not entitled to his own facts. But what I certainly object to is the fact that this is being distributed and printed by the State Bar of California in the California Bar Journal, and advertised at the top of the State Bar of California website, since I am required to pay the California Bar hundreds of dollars a year, and have no way of getting a refund for the fishwrap mailed to me every month. This sort of partisan activity strikes me as a highly unethical use of my dues, and I hope someone in California is doing something about it.
The latest AEI Liability Outlook explores my take on the tort reform implications of October Term 2006.
Some initial thoughts on Philip Morris v. Williams from Jim Copland at Point of Law. By a 5-4 vote, in an opinion by Justice Breyer, the Court held that a punitive damage award cannot be based in part or whole on a jury’s desire to punish harms committed against non-parties to the litigation, although (a fine distinction, if indeed a tenable one) such harms may be taken into account in determining the defendant’s degree of reprehensibility.
More: Ted comments and rounds up links, also at PoL. Roger Parloff (Feb. 20) calls the majority’s distinction “narrow” and “confusing”. And Eric Turkewitz offers one view from the plaintiff’s side (“hair-splitting”; majority’s “Clintonian parsing…was too much for four of the justices”).
I have written a piece on the Philip Morris v. Williams case for the Business and Media Institute. For other views, see Anthony Sebok (Brooklyn Law), Alan Morrison (Public Citizen), and Adam Cohen (New York Times). Morrison argues that the federal courts have no role in reviewing state-court decisions, which makes one wonder what his position is on habeas corpus. Cohen’s op-ed misstates what happened in Andrade, which was a case of collateral (and thus limited) review, rather than a direct appeal, like Williams, where a civil defendant does not even have the option of collateral review.
Update: The American Constitution Society press briefing on Philip Morris v. Williams (in which I participated with Peter Rubin, Neil Vidmar, and Bill Schultz) is now online.