Enforcing Punitive Damage Awards in France after Fountaine Pajot
30 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2012 Last revised: 19 Jul 2012
Date Written: January 15, 2012
In a landmark ruling, the Cour de cassation held that 'an award of punitive damages is not, per se, contrary to public policy,' but that 'it is otherwise when the amount awarded is disproportionate with regard to the damage sustained and the debtor's breach of his contractual obligation.' Schlenzka & Langhorne v. Fountaine Pajot, S.A. involved the failed attempt by American judgment creditors to enforce their California judgment against a French defendant in France. At the same time that the judgment creditors were taking their case through the French legal system, the Cour de cassation, in a different line of cases, liberalized the conditions under which a foreign judgment could be enforced in France. But when the Court opened one door for the American plaintiffs, it closed another by refusing to enforce the judgment because it included disproportionate punitive damages. The Court's reasons were inconsistent with prior interpretations of proportionality and disingenuous to the court's modern approach to the enforcement of foreign judgments. In just a few words, the Court echoed prevailing French and European sentiments about American punitive damage awards. Unfortunately, the prevailing attitudes are dominated more by prejudice than by fact and reason.
Keywords: punitive damages, United States, France, Exequatur, recognition, enforcement, ordre public, public policy
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