August 12, 2008

U.S. Supreme Court Punts on Exxon Valdez Interest Issue

We previously blogged about the dispute between the parties over the interest to be award in Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker. Today the Supreme Court issued its final judgment in the case, declining to decide the interest issue.

The Supreme Court's opinion was silent on the question of interest, so the plaintiffs filed a post-opinion "submission" with the Supreme Court, asking the Supreme Court to clarify that they are entitled to post-judgment interest on the $507 million punitive damages award dating back to the date of the original judgment in September 1996. That would bring the total interest to $488 million, according to the plaintiffs' calculations.

Exxon responded that the plaintiffs are not entitled to any interest at all. Exxon argued that the Supreme Court should either (1) decide the issue and declare that plaintiffs are not entitled to interest, or (2) remain silent on this issue, which (according to Exxon) would make plain that interest should not run from the date of the original judgment.

The Supreme Court's judgment declined to decide the interest issue, but it expressly directed the Ninth Circuit "to address the parties' contentions about respondents' entitlement to interest on the award remaining, a matter on which this Court declines to rule in the first instance, without prejudice to the position of any party." So neither party really got what they wanted. The plaintiffs didn't get their interest award (not yet anyway), and Exxon doesn't get to argue that the Supreme Court's silence constitutes a tacit denial of interest.

As always, SCOTUSblog has full coverage.