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[Download November 26, 2007 Argument Calendar PDF]
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Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker
Exxon Shipping Company, et al. v. Grant Baker, et al.
Punitive Damages, Exemplary Damages, Due Process, Maritime Law
An Alaska federal jury awarded $5 billion in punitive damages against Exxon under
federal maritime law for the accidental grounding of the tanker Exxon Valdez and
the resulting oil spill. The award did not punish for harm to the environment, which
other proceedings had fully redressed, but only for lost income and similar
economic harm to commercial fishermen and other private parties. Applying the
Due Process Clause, the Ninth Circuit reduced the award to $2.5 billion—still 123
times the compensatory damages awarded and five times what the court found was
the total, fully compensated loss to all private economic interests.
The questions presented are:
- May punitive damages be imposed under maritime law against a shipowner (as
the Ninth Circuit held, contrary to decisions of the First, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh
Circuits) for the conduct of a ship’s master at sea, absent a finding that the owner
directed, countenanced, or participated in that conduct, and even when the conduct
was contrary to policies established and enforced by the owner?
- When Congress has specified the criminal and civil penalties for maritime
conduct in a controlling statute, here the Clean Water Act, but has not provided for
punitive damages, may judge-made federal maritime law (as the Ninth Circuit held,
contrary to decisions of the First, Second, Fifth, and Sixth Circuits) expand the
penalties Congress provided by adding a punitive damages remedy?
- Is the $2.5 billion punitive damages award, which is larger than the total of all
punitive damages awards affirmed by all federal appellate courts in history, within the limits allowed by (1) federal maritime law or (2) if maritime law could permit such an award, constitutional due process?