September 10, 2008

Review Dismissed in Harvey v. Sybase

The California Supreme Court today dismissed review in Harvey v. Sybase, a case presenting a significant unresolved issue affecting California punitive damages litigation. As the Supreme Court's online docket indicates, the parties settled the case and stipulated to a dismissal.

The issue presented in Harvey was whether the clear and convincing evidence standard, which governs punitive damages determinations in California, applies only in the trial court, or does it also apply on appeal? In other words, should the Court of Appeal take that standard into account when it reviews the record to determine whether substantial evidence supports a jury's determination that the defendant acted with malice, oppression, or fraud (the California prerequisites for imposing punitive damages)?

This issue arises whenever a defendant argues on appeal that the facts of a particular case don't warrant punitive damages. Unfortunately, California courts are all over the map on this issue, including the California Supreme Court, as we observed in a prior post about Harvey. Fortunately, because the issues arises so often, the Supreme Court should not have to wait very long to find another vehicle for deciding this issue.