November 14, 2020

California Supreme Court to rule soon on Fidelity National's petition for review (Albarracin v. Fidelity National)

We previously reported on the Court of Appeals' affirmance of a $2 million punitive damages award in this employment case.  As we noted, the court concluded that a $250,000 compensatory damages award was not "substantial" for purposes of the rule that lower punitive-to-compensatory ratios are warranted in cases with substantial compensatory damages.

Fidelity National has petitioned for review, raising the following issues (quoted directly from the petition):

1.    Under Auto Equity Sales, Inc. v. Superior Court
(1962) 57 Cal.2d 450, 455 (Auto Equity Sales), this Court’s
decisions “are binding upon and must be followed by all the state
courts of California.”
     Does this stare decisis doctrine require the intermediate
appellate courts, in unpublished decisions, to either follow or
meaningfully distinguish this Court’s relevant holdings? 
2.        This Court and the U.S. Supreme Court require
reviewing courts to independently determine the constitutionality
of punitive damages awards, including whether such an award
bears a reasonable relationship to compensatory damages.
    Does the fact that a compensatory award is moderate—that
is, neither large enough to suggest an inherent punitive element
nor small and purely economic—itself justify “a much higher
ratio” of punitive damages (here, nearly 8-to-1)?

The Supreme Court has granted itself a 30-day extension of time to rule on the petition, moving the due date from November 21 to December 21.  Expect a ruling soon.