The Road Not Taken: Would Application of the Excessive Fines Clause to Punitive Damages Have Made a Difference?
Sheila B. Scheuerman
Charleston School of Law
Widener Law Journal, Forthcoming
This essay was written for the Widener Law Journal CrimTorts Symposium, and examines a theoretical question concerning the intersection of criminal law and punitive damages: Would the punitive damages legal framework materially differ today had the Supreme Court held that the Excessive Fines Clause rather than the Due Process Clause governs punitive damages?
In 1989, the Supreme Court rejected application of the Excessive Fines Clause to punitive damages. Instead, the Court subsequently held that substantive and procedural due process guide and limit punitive damages awards. In the Court's most recent punitive damages decision, however, Justice Stevens, perhaps motivated by dissatisfaction with the Court's recent punitive damages jurisprudence, suggested in his dissent that the Court should have taken a different road, and applied the Excessive Fines Clause to these awards. This essay takes that suggestion to fruition and considers whether the road not taken would have materially affected the current analytical framework for assessing punitive damages. I found that the standards for assessing the constitutionality of fines and punitive damages awards largely overlap and, indeed, have influenced each other significantly. To the extent any differences exist, they are largely immaterial. In short, I conclude that the road not taken leads to the same destination.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 23
Keywords: punitive damages, excessive fines, due process, philip morris v. williams
JEL Classification: K10, K13, K14, K40, K42
Date posted: May 29, 2008