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Whimsical Punishment: The Vice of Federal Intervention, Constitutionalization, and Substantive Due Process in Punitive Damages Law


Jenny Miao Jiang


University of California, Berkeley - School of Law


California Law Review, Vol. 94, p. 793, 2006

Abstract:     
Punitive damages law was traditionally an area of jurisprudence reserved for the states. In the early 1990s, the United States Supreme Court constitutionalized this area of law and began subjecting punitive damages awards to due process limitations. In so doing, the Court sought to: (1) curb the arbitrary nature of punitive damages awards; and (2) promulgate uniform rules and procedures to govern the imposition of such awards nationwide.

This Comment argues that the Supreme Court has failed to bring uniformity to punitive damages law and proposes an alternative framework to address the problem of unwarranted disparate awards. Specifically, this Comment suggests that we import concepts from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines to the punitive damages context and apply a numerical scale, rather than narrative standards, to determine civil defendants' punitive damages liability. In short, this Comment argues that just as the Federal Sentencing Guidelines have brought substantial uniformity to criminal sentencing, guidelines adopted in and tailored to the civil context could potentially bring uniformity to the highly volatile area of punitive damages law.

The Supreme Court's recent decision in State Farm v. Campbell has renewed the escalating debate regarding the standard, scope, and constitutional authority underlying the Court's punitive damages jurisprudence. Although this Comment cannot hope to resolve this debate, it seeks to push the current dialogue on punitive damages law towards a more constructive direction.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 40

Keywords: punitive damages, State Farm v. Campbell, substantive due process, Exxon Valdez, constitution, uniformity, sentencing guidelines, damages, torts, jury, federalism, criminal sentencing, tort reform, reprehensibility, BMW v. Gore, compensation, deterrence, punishment, civil liability, proportionality

JEL Classification: K10, K13, K14, K19, K29, K40, K41, K42, K49

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Date posted: October 12, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Jiang, Jenny Miao, Whimsical Punishment: The Vice of Federal Intervention, Constitutionalization, and Substantive Due Process in Punitive Damages Law. California Law Review, Vol. 94, p. 793, 2006. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=936888

Contact Information

Jenny Miao Jiang (Contact Author)
University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )
215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States
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