March 26, 2008

Charleston Law Review Article on Punitive Damages Jury Instructions

In September 2007, the Charleston School of Law held a symposium on punitive damages entitled "Punitive Damages, Due Process, and Deterrence."

One of the papers from that conference, published in the Spring 2008 edition of the Charleston Law Review, has just become available on Westlaw. (We previously blogged about another paper from that conference, available on SSRN.)

The paper is entitled "Clinging to Federalism: How Reluctance to Amend State Law-Based Punitive Damages Procedures Impedes Due Process," authored by Anthony J. Franze, Counsel with Arnold & Porter's DC office. The citation is 2 Charleston L. Rev. 297. Here is the introduction, with the footnotes omitted:

Over a decade ago, when a majority of the Supreme Court first recognized substantive due process limits on punitive damages, Justice Scalia lamented that “[t]he Constitution provides no warrant for federalizing yet another aspect of our Nation's legal culture.” Justice Ginsburg similarly echoed that the Court “unwisely venture[d] into territory traditionally within the States' domain.” Those sentiments, while not carrying the day, have not died. From judicial complaints that the tort process has been improperly federalized, to academics' arguments that the Supreme Court is “serving as a punitive damages puppeteer who interferes with the ability of the states to constrain corporate wrongdoing,” criticism of the so-called federalization of punitive damages lingers. While I disagree with these views on a number of grounds, in this short essay I focus on a practical concern: the extent to which clinging to federalism has impeded needed procedural reform at the trial level. In particular, I focus on model jury instructions. Despite calls for reform, the punitive damages model instructions relied on by litigants and courts across the country continue to reflect state law standards notwithstanding that, more often than not, those standards ignore or facially conflict with the Supreme Court's federal constitutional benchmarks. Though there may be any number of reasons for the slow pace of legislative and instructional reform, this essay argues that it is time to cast aside any federalism-based resistance to conducting the needed overhaul of model punitive damages instructions. To this end, I provide three reasons why I believe the time for instructional reform is now.