Tuesday, March 31, 2009
In a somewhat unusual move, the Supreme Court has declined to issue a ruling in Williams v. Phillip Morris, a case they already heard oral arguments on in December. It looks like the Supreme Court was not up to the task of wading through this particular minefield again. They declined to issue any sort of explicit standard for limiting punitive damages the last time around, only to have the Oregon Supreme Court re-affirm the previous judgment on "independent state grounds." If the Court was looking to limit punitive damages, there were only a couple of ways they could do it, either by rebuking the Oregon Supreme Court for doing an end-run around the Supreme's ruling, or avoiding that issue and tackling directly the ratio of punitive damages that they avoided addressing the last time around. Apparently the needle proved to be too difficult to thread, and the Court has now declined to weigh in on the matter of punitive damages at all. It's hard to imagine the issue being addressed by the Court anytime in the near future, though that might change if a case with friendlier facts and a tidier disposition comes along.