Attorney At Law Magazine Vol 5 Issue 10 - Page 30

Appellate Law P unitive damages questions arise rather frequently both in the appellate arena and in postjudgment motion practice. Often the question is whether the magnitude of the punishment is constitutionally suspect. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has addressed the topic of “grossly excessive” punitive damages awards with uncharacteristic frequency over the past 20 years, the labyrinth of considerations articulated in the precedent remains challenging for many lawyers and judges to navigate. Add intermediate appellate court decisions to the mix and the challenge is that much more daunting. While one could write volumes on the topic, the following considerations provide a helpful starting point for evaluating whether a punitive damages award imposed by a federal court can be challenged on due process grounds. Additional considerations relevant to state court punitive damages awards will be addressed in a future article. 1. The Overarching Inquiry—Fair Notice. As a matter of U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence, When is a Punitive Damages Award Too Big? A Five-Part Analytical Framework for Appeals and PostJudgment Motions an award of punitive damages is impermissibly excessive, and, thus, a violation of the Due Process By Robert A. Mandel enunciated three “guideposts” or benchmarks for evaluating whether the defendant had “fair notice”— Clause, where the defendant lacked “fair notice” that the punishment could be as severe as the one imposed for the conduct upon which liability was premised. As Justice David Souter put the issue in Exxon Shipping Company v. Baker, “The real problem, it seems, is the stark unpredictability of punitive awards. Courts of law are concerned with fairness as consistency[.]” 554 U.S. 471, 499 (2008). He continued: [A] penalty should be reasonably predictable in its severity, so that even Justice Holmes’s “bad man” can look ahead with some ability to know what the stakes are in choosing one course of action over another. And when the bad man’s counterparts turn up from time to time, the penalty scheme they face ought to threaten them with a fair probability of suffering in like degree when they wreak like damage. The common sense of justice would surely bar penalties that reasonable people would think excessive for the harm caused in the circumstances.. Id. at 502. Accord State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408, 417 (2003) and Honda Motor Co. v. Oberg, 512 U.S. 415, 432 (1994). Thus, “fair notice” is the focal point of the due process inquiry. 2. The Three Guidepost Paradigm. The U.S. Supreme Court in BMW of N. Am., Inc. v. Gore i.e., whether the puniti ?H[XY?\?]?\???\???]YH???\???\?[??XY8?'????H^?\??]?K??'B?LM?K?? MNK M?N H NNM?K?[?\?\?\?YY?K8?'?Z\???X?x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x?'H?HXY?]YH?H[?]]?H]?\? ?B??\[]H??\???\?HH[?\?\X[???[?[?Y?Y[???[[Z[?\?H[??[??[??[??\?[?\???]?HX?Y\?]][?????]???\?[?\?H ?]?Y]?H[?X[?KB??]\??Y]?H?\??[\?[??\???Y?H?\?H?H?YH?ZY\??\?YY?K???H?\?Z[??X?[]H?ZY\?? ?HK???\?[YH??\?\?[?[??X]YHY\?\??H???X?]?B??X?????]?[X][??H?\?Z[??X?[]H?HY?[?[?8?&\???X?? JH?]\?H\?H?]\?Y??]\? ?X?X[X?[??K?\?Y?YY]Y\?[?????\?\?X?[?]\?[?X???ZX?? ?H?]\?H?[?\???X?]?[??Y[?[?Y??\?[??H????[?[??X?X?K[?H?\?\?[?][?????X??\??\?Y?\??HX[??Y?]H??\??? ?H?]\?H\??]?H??X??\??[?[??X[B??[ZX?H?\?XYK???[??\??]Z[?Y\?\[]B???[?\?X?N?  H?]\?H??X?[????Y?\X]YX?[????\?[?\??]Y[??Y[??[? JB????[??[?Z[?\?\?Y[??K???[????X??]]?[H?]]Y?]????[Z^?HZ\??\?\????X[[?\X[[?[?\?Z?[???[X\?B???]\?H\?H?\?H?\?[?[?[?[?[X[X?K?X??\?K?X?Z] ?Y\?HX??Y[? ??[\?[ ?L?K??] NK?\?Y\?\??H[X??Y\?H???\]8?'??YH????\?H[?H?[Y]??H[????\???X?[]H???]X?[??X??[??Y[????\???'H??K LM?K??] M?KM??[?\Z[??\?H?X????H??[?HZ[??[?H?\?[YB??\???]]?H[?[??????\?8?&\?XX?[??]8?'?ZH^\?[??H?[?H?H?\?H?X????ZY?[??[??]???HZ[?Y??X^B??