Supreme Court to consider punitive damages in Exxon Mobil oil spill case

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] granted certiorari Monday in a dispute over the punitive damages to be paid by Exxon Mobil [corporate website] for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill [EPA backgrounder]. Exxon Mobil and its shipping subsidiary have been ordered to pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages for the spill of 11 million gallons of crude oil in Prince William Sound, Alaska. According to its Order List [PDF text] Monday, the Court limited its review of Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker (07-219) [docket] to the following questions presented [cert. petition, PDF]:

1. May punitive damages be imposed under maritime law against a shipowner (as the Ninth Circuit held, contrary to decisions of the First, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits) for the conduct of a ship's master at sea, absent a finding that the owner directed, countenanced, or participated in that conduct, and even when the conduct was contrary to policies established and enforced by the owner?

2. When Congress has specified the criminal and civil penalties for maritime conduct in a controlling statute, here the Clean Water Act, but has not provided for punitive damages, may judge-made federal maritime law (as the Ninth Circuit held, contrary to decisions of the First, Second, Fifth, and Sixth Circuits) expand the penalties Congress provided by adding a punitive damages remedy?

3. Is this $2.5 billion punitive damages award, which is larger than the total of all punitive damages awards affirmed by all federal appellate courts in our history, within the limits allowed by (1) federal maritime law...?
The Court declined to hear the claim that the verdict was excessive under the Constitution's Due Process Clause [text] and a cross appeal to reinstate the initial $5 billion damages award, which was cut in half by a federal appeals court [JURIST report] late last year. AP has more.

Also Monday, the Court agreed to hear Allison Engine v. United States (07-214) [docket], where the Court will decide whether the Federal False Claims Act [31 USC 3729 text] is limited to claims of misspent funds submitted to a federal government agency, or whether it also applies to claims submitted to a federal contractor that will ultimately be paid with federal money. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found [opinion, PDF] that the statute does not require presentment of a claim to the government. SCOTUSblog has more.


 

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