February 6, 2008

Philip Morris v. Accord: Cert Petition on Punitive Damages Issue Will Be Considered on February 15

The Supreme Court will consider the petition for certiorari in Philip Morris USA, Inc. v. Accord at next week's conference. The issue presented is whether, under the Due Process Clause, defendants’ liability for punitive damages in a mass tort trial may be adjudicated prior to a finding of compensatory liability.

The cert. petition is available on SCOTUSblog here, along with the brief in opposition, the petitioner's reply, and amicus briefs by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Ciba corporation.
SCOTUSblog flags this petition as one of several that have a reasonable chance of being granted.

This is a recurring issue in California mass tort litigation. In addition to the due process issues raised in this cert petition, California law adds a further wrinkle: Civil Code section 3295 requires that punitive damages issues be tried "by the same trier of fact that found for the plaintiff," which seems to preclude trial of punitive damages before liability issues.