BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 33 (1996)

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Cite as: 517 U. S. 559 (1996)

Breyer, J., concurring

(c) Green Oil's third factor requires "punitive damages" to "remove the profit" of the illegal activity and "be in excess of the profit, so that the defendant recognizes a loss." Green Oil, 539 So. 2d, at 223. This factor has the ability to limit awards to a fixed, rational amount. But as applied, that concept's potential was not realized, for the court did not limit the award to anywhere near the $56,000 in profits evidenced in the record. Given the record's description of the conduct and its prevalence, this factor could not justify much of the $2 million award. (d) Green Oil's fourth factor is the "financial position" of the defendant. Ibid. Since a fixed dollar award will punish a poor person more than a wealthy one, one can understand the relevance of this factor to the State's interest in retribution (though not necessarily to its interest in deterrence, given the more distant relation between a defendant's wealth and its responses to economic incentives). See TXO, 509 U. S., at 462, and n. 28 (plurality opinion); id., at 469 (Kennedy, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment); Haslip, 499 U. S., at 21-22; Browning-Ferris Industries of Vt., Inc. v. Kelco Disposal, Inc., 492 U. S. 257, 300 (1989) (O'Connor, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). This factor, however, is not necessarily intended to act as a significant constraint on punitive awards. Rather, it provides an open-ended basis for inflating awards when the defendant is wealthy, as this case may illustrate. That does not make its use unlawful or inappropriate; it simply means that this factor cannot make up for the failure of other factors, such as "reprehensibility," to constrain significantly an award that purports to punish a defendant's conduct. (e) Green Oil's fifth factor is the "costs of litigation" and the State's desire "to encourage plaintiffs to bring wrongdoers to trial." 539 So. 2d, at 223. This standard provides meaningful constraint to the extent that the enhancement it authorized is linked to a fixed, ascertainable amount approximating actual costs, even when defined generously to reflect


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