U.S. Supreme Court Issues Important Recusal Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court issued an interesting case on recusal today. In Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., [08-22],  a 5-4 opinion, the Court recognized a due process violation when a judge refuses to recusue himself when a litigant "had a significant and disproportionate influence in placing the judge on the case by raising funds or directing the judge’s election campaign when the case was pending or imminent."
 

Continue reading

United States Supreme Court Holds that Punitive Damages May Not Be Based on Harm to Non-Parties

A decade after the United States Supreme Court issued its landmark punitive damages decision in BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996), a case emanating from Alabama, the Court again spoke on the issue in February in Philip Morris USA v. Williams. In that appeal from a negligence and fraud judgment from an Oregon state court, the Court considered whether the $79.5 million punitive damages award violated the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution because the award punished the defendant for harming individuals who were not parties to the action. The Court found that the award “would amount to a taking of ‘property’ from the defendant without due process.” Writing for the Court, Justice Breyer explained that, “the Constitution’s Due Process Clause forbids a state to use a punitive damages award to punish a defendant for injury that it inflicts upon nonparties or those whom they directly represent, i.e., injury that it inflicts upon those who are, essentially, strangers to the litigation.” Moreover, the notion that, “it may be appropriate to consider the reasonableness of a punitive damages award in light of the potential harm the defendant’s conduct could have caused . . . was harm potentially caused the plaintiff.” (emphasis supplied)

Continue reading