June 10, 2009

California Supreme Court Denies Request to Re-Publish Buell-Wilson

The California Supreme Court today denied a request to publish the Court of Appeal opinion in Buell-Wilson v. Ford. (See the court's online docket.) Justice Werdegar dissented.

The order denying publication is good news for defendants, especially products liability defendants, because the Buell-Wilson opinion included some language that would make it more difficult to defeat punitive damages claims in such cases.

For those of you who haven't been following the Buell-Wilson saga, the Court of Appeal in this case reaffirmed a $55 million punitive damages award even after the US Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeal's prior opinion affirming the same award. As far as we know, Buell-Wilson is the largest punitive damages award ever to survive appeal in California.

The California Supreme Court granted review, which had the effect of de-publishing the Court of Appeal's published opinion. The Supreme Court put the case on hold pending the outcome if Philip Morris v. Williams (Williams III). When the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed Williams III, the Cal. Supreme Court did the same in Buell-Wilson.

The dismissal left Ford on the hook for the judgment, but did not restore the published status of the Court of Appeal opinion. Consumer lawyers Bisnar & Chase asked the Supreme Court to re-publish the Court of Appeal opinion. In California, anyone can submit such a request, although they are rarely granted. Requesting publication in this case was a saavy move, but ultimately unsuccessful.

This will bring an end the Buell-Wilson saga, unless Ford can get the U.S. Supreme Court to step in once again.