U.S. Supreme Court again wrestles with Oregon punitive damages verdict

By Lori Irish Bauman
December 4, 2008

When it agreed to review the judgment in Philp Morris v. Williams for a third time, the U.S. Supreme Court asked whether the Oregon Supreme Court properly affirmed the punitive damages based on a state law defect in Philip Morris's proposed jury instructions.  Accounts of yesterday's oral argument indicate the justices are concerned that the Oregon court affirmed the judgment by applying state procedural rules in lieu of analyzing whether the damages were excessive under the federal Due Process Clause, as the Court had signalled in remanding the case in 2007. 

But by the end of yesterday's oral argument, it appeared that the Court may abandon the procedural question, and proceed directly to the ultimate issue:  did the $79.5 million award violate Philip Morris's due process rights?  Chief Justice John Roberts's suggestion that the Court may request additional briefing on the constitutional issue could mean no prompt ending to this 10-year-old litigation.

See this account of the hearing from the SCOTUS blog, and this from The Oregonian.  See our earlier coverage of the case here.


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