July 12, 2010

Unzipped Apparel v. Sweet Sportswear: $5M Punitive Damages Award Affirmed

This is a very long unpublished opinion, only a small portion of which relates to punitive damages.

In a nutshell, the jury awarded $30 million in compensatory damages against one of the defendants, Guez, who succeeded in knocking out $3.8 million of that award on appeal. Despite the reduction of the compensatory damages, the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division Seven) declined to order a reduction of the punitive damages. Instead, the court examined the amount of the punitive damages award under state law (because the defendant did not challenge the amount of the award on federal due process grounds) and concluded that the award was not excessive.

It's not all that surprising that the court affirmed the amount of this punitive damages award, since the compensatory damages, even as reduced, were still much larger than the punitive damages. But it's interesting that the court did not discuss the case law stating that a reduction in compensatory damages necessarily requires a reduction of the punitive damages award, or at least a new trial on punitive damages. As we have noted before, California courts have taken conflicting positions on this issue. Neither line of authorities is discussed in this opinion.