Of Remedy, Juries and State Regulation of Punitive Damages: The Significance of Philip Morris v. Williams
Michael Patrick Allen
Stetson University - College of Law
NYU Annual Survey of American Law, Vol. 63, 2008
Philip Morris USA v. Williams, 127 S. Ct. 1057 (2007), is the latest in the Court's project to explain in what respects the United States Constitution limits punitive damages. While apparently modest, the ruling is a highly significant step in the Court's development of constitutional doctrine in an area of great public interest.
This Article considers the implications of Philip Morris on the Court's recently-developed constitutional jurisprudence concerning punitive damages. It has four parts in addition to an introduction. Part II discusses the various ways in which the Court had constitutionally limited punitive damage awards before Philip Morris.
Part III focuses on Philip Morris. After briefly explaining the case's factual background, this Part explains the decision's holding. That holding both further serves to constrain the award of punitive damages and, quite confusingly, also appears to affect the role of the jury in the process in a significant fashion. Thereafter, I situate Philip Morris in the broader constitutional landscape.
Part IV explores three significant aspects of Philip Morris beyond its impact on constitutional doctrine. First, I consider how the decision will likely affect punitive damages as a remedial device. I suggest that Philip Morris is another step in the Court's campaign to restrict the device to what it perceives to be its historical roots. The result of this effort could have significant repercussions especially when combined with other means by which monetary recovery in the civil justice system is being restricted. Second, I describe Philip Morris's impact on the states' ability to regulate punitive damages. Some of this impact is predictable: states are restricted in using punitive damages in innovative ways. However, the decision also has the potential to affect state regulation in a way that is harmful to defendants. Finally, Part IV considers the decision's impact on juries. I argue that the Court has planted seeds by which the role of the jury in awarding punitive damages could be fundamentally altered.
Part V concludes by suggesting that, as significant as it is, Philip Morris leaves a host of questions unresolved.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 46
Keywords: punitive damages, juries, due process
JEL Classification: K10, K41
Date posted: December 7, 2007