BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 30 (1996)

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588

BMW OF NORTH AMERICA, INC. v. GORE

Breyer, J., concurring

Legal standards need not be precise in order to satisfy this constitutional concern. See Haslip, supra, at 20 (comparing punitive damages standards to such legal standards as "reasonable care," "due diligence," and "best interests of the child") (internal quotation marks omitted). But they must offer some kind of constraint upon a jury or court's discretion, and thus protection against purely arbitrary behavior. The standards the Alabama courts applied here are vague and open ended to the point where they risk arbitrary results. In my view, although the vagueness of those standards does not, by itself, violate due process, see Haslip, supra, it does invite the kind of scrutiny the Court has given the particular verdict before us. See id., at 18 ("[C]oncerns of . . . adequate guidance from the court when the case is tried to a jury properly enter into the constitutional calculus"); TXO, supra, at 475 ("[I]t cannot be denied that the lack of clear guidance heightens the risk that arbitrariness, passion, or bias will replace dispassionate deliberation as the basis for the jury's verdict") (O'Connor, J., dissenting). This is because the standards, as the Alabama Supreme Court authoritatively interpreted them here, provided no significant constraints or protection against arbitrary results.

First, the Alabama statute that permits punitive damages does not itself contain a standard that readily distinguishes between conduct warranting very small, and conduct warranting very large, punitive damages awards. That statute permits punitive damages in cases of "oppression, fraud, wantonness, or malice." Ala. Code 6-11-20(a) (1993). But the statute goes on to define those terms broadly, to encompass far more than the egregious conduct that those terms, at first reading, might seem to imply. An intentional misrepresentation, made through a statement or silence, can easily amount to "fraud" sufficient to warrant punitive damages. See 6-11-20(b)(1) ("Fraud" includes "intentional . . . concealment of a material fact the concealing party had a

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