Philip Morris Punitive Damages Redux

The California Punitive Damages Blog reports that the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the latest petition for certiorari of cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris in Philip Morris USA, Inc. v. Williams during its May 22, 2008 conference. When we last discussed this case, a 5-4 SCOTUS majority had vacated a $79.5 million punitive damages judgment in favor of the widow of a deceased smoker on the ground that due process “prohibits a State’s inflicting punishment for harm caused strangers to the litigation.” On remand the Oregon Supreme Court — wily devils that they are — found a way to sidestep the due process issue and keep the punitive damages judgment alive on unrelated state law grounds. It comes as no surprise that Philip Morris is demanding SCOTUS review yet again.

Is the jury instruction issue on which the Oregon Supreme Court based its most recent ruling truly an adequate and independent state law ground of decision? Will SCOTUS be outraged at what it perceives to be a big, fat “blow it out your ass” from a state supreme court? Stay tuned!

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