April 22, 2009

Cal. Supreme Court Dismisses Review in Buell-Wilson v. Ford

The California Supreme Court has changed its mind about reviewing the $55 million punitive damages award in Buell-Wilson v. Ford. The Court issued an order today dismissing review, according to the court's online docket.

As we noted in our prior post about this case, the plaintiff in Buell-Wilson moved to dismiss review in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to dismiss certiorari in Philip Morris v. Williams (Williams III). The Supreme Court could have used Buell-Wilson to decide some important issues raised by the petition which had nothing to do with the issue in Williams III. But the Supreme Court decided to remand the case back to the Court of Appeal without deciding anything.

Although the Supreme Court won't be addressing any of the issues raised by Buell-Wilson, the Supreme Court's grant of review has an important consequence for California punitive damages litigation. When the Supreme Court granted review, the Court of Appeal's published opinion was automatically de-published, preventing litigants from citing that opinion in any California court. (See California Rules of Court, rules 8.1105(e) and 8.1115(a).) Even though the Supreme Court dismissed review, the Court of Appeal's opinion in Buell-Wilson remains depublished and uncitable. That's good news for other defendants in products liability cases in California, because the opinion contained some language making it easier for plaintiffs to recover punitive damages in such cases. But the depublication of Buell-Wilson is cold comfort for Ford, which must now pay the $55 million punitive damages award upheld by the Court of Appeal.

UPDATE: Cal Biz Lit blogs about the dismissal here.