February 8, 2010

"Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker: Why the Supreme Court Missed the Boat on Punitive Damages"

Not many law students would feel comfortable publishing an article accusing the Supreme Court of biased, results-oriented judging. But University of Akron School of Law student Maria C. Klutinoty has no such qualms. She has written an article blasting the Supreme Court for its decision last year two years ago in Exxon Shipping, which adopted a maximum 1-to1 ratio for punitive damages to compensatory damages in federal maritime cases. The article suggests that the Justice Souter's majority opinion resulted from a bias in favor of major corporations:

In light of the fact that the defendant here was Exxon Shipping, a major corporation, some have concluded that this decision was the product of a conservative Court that placed the interests of business above the need to punish and deter wrongful conduct. This possible bias certainly may have played a role in the Court's decision, which appears to be much more concerned with protecting Exxon than with deterring other corporations from acting similarly.

The article concludes that lower courts should not apply Exxon Shipping outside the maritime context because the standard adopted in that opinion "eviscerated and rendered completely meaningless and void" the deterrence objective of punitive damages. The article, entitled "Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker: Why the Supreme Court Missed the Boat on Punitive Damages," is available on Westlaw: at 43 AKRONLR 203.