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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court Dismisses Appeal of $79.5M Punitive Tobacco Award

Posted Mar 31, 2009 9:55 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The U.S. Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal of a $79.5 million punitive award in a tobacco case, saying it had erred in granting certiorari.

The appeal by tobacco maker Phillip Morris was “dismissed as improvidently granted” in a one-sentence order, according to SCOTUSblog and the Associated Press. The dismissal leaves undisturbed an Oregon Supreme Court decision upholding the award.

The case had been “something of a judicial minuet between the Supreme Court and the Oregon Supreme Court,” according to SCOTUSblog. The Supreme Court has twice overturned the punitive verdict, and the Oregon Supreme Court has twice reinstated it.

In its most recent decision, the Oregon high court avoided a constitutional issue that had troubled the Supreme Court—whether jurors were unconstitutionally punishing Phillip Morris for damages done to people who weren’t parties to the lawsuit. Instead, the Oregon court upheld the verdict based on an independent state ground—that jury instructions proposed by the company had misstated state law.

When the Supreme Court granted cert last June, it said it would decide whether the Oregon court was wrong when it cited procedural grounds, for the first time, to uphold the award, according to SCOTUSblog. The action likely means the end of the dispute over the 10-year-old verdict, according to AP.

The dismissal is likely to disappoint business groups seeking more guidance on punitive damages restrictions from the Supreme Court, according to CNNMoney.com.

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