BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 34 (1996)

Page:   Index   Previous  27  28  29  30  31  32  33  34  35  36  37  38  39  40  41  Next



Breyer, J., concurring

the contingent nature of plaintiffs' victories. But as this case shows, the factor cannot operate as a constraint when an award much in excess of costs is approved for other reasons. An additional aspect of the standard—the need to "encourage plaintiffs to bring wrongdoers to trial"—is a factor that does not constrain, but enhances, discretionary power—especially when unsupported by evidence of a special need to encourage litigation (which the Alabama courts here did not mention).

(f) Green Oil's sixth factor is whether or not "criminal sanctions have been imposed on the defendant for his conduct." Ibid. This factor did not apply here. (g) Green Oil's seventh factor requires that "other civil actions" filed "against the same defendant, based on the same conduct," be considered in mitigation. Id., at 224. That factor did not apply here.

Thus, the first, second, and third Green Oil factors, in principle, might sometimes act as constraints on arbitrary behavior. But as the Alabama courts interpreted those standards in this case, even taking those three factors together, they could not have significantly constrained the court system's ability to impose "grossly excessive" awards.

Third, the state courts neither referred to, nor made any effort to find, nor enunciated any other standard that either directly, or indirectly as background, might have supplied the constraining legal force that the statute and Green Oil standards (as interpreted here) lack. Dr. Gore did argue to the jury an economic theory based on the need to offset the totality of the harm that the defendant's conduct caused. Some theory of that general kind might have provided a significant constraint on arbitrary awards (at least where confined to the relevant harm-causing conduct, see ante, at 570-574). Some economists, for example, have argued for a standard that would deter illegal activity causing solely economic harm through the use of punitive damages awards that, as a whole, would take from a wrongdoer the total cost of the

Page:   Index   Previous  27  28  29  30  31  32  33  34  35  36  37  38  39  40  41  Next

Last modified: October 4, 2007