Academic journal article Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy

Beyond State Farm: Due Process Constraints on Noneconomic Compensatory Damages

Academic journal article Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy

Beyond State Farm: Due Process Constraints on Noneconomic Compensatory Damages

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

I. THE HISTORY OF JUDICIAL REVIEW OF
    NONECONOMIC COMPENSATORY DAMAGES
    AWARDS
 A. The Origins of Judicial Review of Damages Awards
     for Excessiveness in the English Courts
 B. English Decisions Recognize the Conceptual
     Differences Between Reviewing Economic and
     Noneconomic Damages
 C. American Courts Adopt "Passion or Prejudice" or
     "Shock the Conscience" Approaches to Judicial
     Review
 D. To Compare or Not to Compare Awards in Other
     Cases
 E. Compensatory Damages and the Seventh
     Amendment

II. THE INADEQUACY OF TRADITIONAL PROCEDURES
     FOR AWARDING NONECONOMIC COMPENSATORY
     DAMAGES AND REVIEWING VERDICTS
 A. Jurors Receive Inadequate Guidance or Evidence to
     Enable Them to Render an Informed Verdict
 B. Judicial Review of Awards of Noneconomic
     Compensatory Damages for Excessiveness Generally
     Lacks Principle or Predictability

III. THE SUPREME COURT'S PUNITIVE DAMAGES
     JURISPRUDENCE

 A. Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Haslip: The
     Court's First Procedural Due Process Evaluation of
     Punitive Damages
     1. The Majority Upholds Common-Law Punitive
         Damages Procedures
     2. Justice O'Connor's Dissent
 B. TXO Production Corp. v. Alliance Resources
     Corp.: A Plurality Recognizes a Substantive Due
     Process Prohibition of Grossly Excessive Punitive
     Damages
     1. The Plurality Upholds the Verdict Under
         Substantive and Procedural Due Process
         Standards
     2. Justice O'Connor's Dissent
 C. Honda Motor Co. v. Oberg: Procedural Due Process
     Mandates Judicial Review of the Amount of Punitive
     Damages Awards for Excessiveness
 D. BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore: The Court
     Provides Substantive Due Process "Guideposts" to
     Determine Excessiveness
 E. Cooper Industries, Inc. v. Leatherman Tool
     Group, Inc.: The Court Requires De Novo Appellate
     Review of Excessiveness Analysis
 F. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v.
     Campbell: The Court Suggests a Constitutional
     Limiting Ratio of Nine-To-One
IV. DUE PROCESS REQUIRES MEANINGFUL GUIDANCE
    TO JURIES AND MEANINGFUL JUDICIAL REVIEW OF
    NONECONOMIC COMPENSATORY DAMAGES
    AWARDS
 A. Trial Courts Should Inform Jurors of a Range of
     Noneconomic Compensatory Damages Awards in
     Factually Comparable Cases
 B. Trial Courts Should Exercise a Two-Tiered Review of
     Noneconomic Compensatory Damages Awards for
     Excessiveness
 C. Appellate Courts Should Exercise a Two-Tiered
     Review of Trial Court Rulings Regarding
     Excessiveness
CONCLUSION

INTRODUCTION

Punitive damages and noneconomic compensatory damages (1) share much in common. In the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, such damages were largely undifferentiated and, in some respects, interchangeable, with punitive damages serving in part as an avenue of recovery for types of intangible harms not yet expressly recognized as compensable. Unlike economic damages, which have long been subject to relatively robust judicial scrutiny, judges traditionally have left determination of punitive and noneconomic compensatory damages almost exclusively to juries, subject only to review under such amorphous standards as abuse of discretion, passion or prejudice, or "shocks the conscience."

Since 1991, however, the Supreme Court of the United States has decided a line of cases interpreting the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (2) as imposing limits, both substantive and procedural, on awards of punitive damages. Primarily in response to a concern that traditional modes of review were increasingly failing to reign in "runaway" punitive damages awards, the Court has dramatically increased the scope of judicial involvement in reviewing punitive damages awards for excessiveness. The Court's decision in State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. …

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