June 9, 2008

U.S. Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Williams III

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted cert. yet again in Philip Morris v. Williams. The Court's order limits the grant of certiorari to Question 1 presented by the opinion, which involves the Oregon Supreme Court's use of a state-law procedural rule to find that Philip Morris forfeited its right to complain about the due process violation that the Supreme Court found in its earlier opinion:

"Whether, after this Court has adjudicated the merits of a party’s federal claim and remanded the case to state court with instructions to "apply" the correct constitutional standard, the state court may interpose--for the first time in the litigation--a state-law procedural bar that is neither firmly established nor regularly followed."

The Court declined to review the second issue presented, which was the constitutional excessiveness of the award. The Court's limited grant of review is interesting because the Court granted review on the excessiveness issue last time around, although the Court never reached that issue given its disposition of the case. The limited grant of review will probably lead to a lot of speculation about whether the Court's views on excessiveness have shifted after the addition of Justices Roberts and Alito, who may share the view of Justices Scalia and Thomas that the Constitution does not impose restrictions on the amount of punitive damages. On the other hand, the Court's decision not to review the second issue may simply reflect an understanding among the members of the Court that they are likely to reverse the Oregon Supreme Court on the procedural issue (again) and therefore won't need to reach the excessiveness issue. Or perhaps the justices feel that they said all that needs to be said about excessiveness in BMW v. Gore and State Farm v. Campbell.

In any event, the Supreme Court's grant of certiorari in this case will come as a bit of surprise to some. Howard Bashman, for example, predicted that the Court would not be interested in the procedural issue. My co-blogger Jeremy Rosen, on the other hand, was highly confident that the Court would reverse the Oregon Supreme Court on the procedural issue. Jeremy predicted a summary reversal, which obviously didn't happen, but a reversal seems likely nevertheless.

SCOTUSblog has links to the opinion below, petition, the brief in opposition, the reply, and the amicus briefs at the petition stage (by the US Chamber, Washington Legal Foundation, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Products Liability Advisory Council).