JUDGES CHOP OFF OWN RIGHT HAND
SUPREME COURT OUTLAWS "EXCESSIVE" PUNITIVE DAMAGES
LIABILITY NOW LIMITED TO "ACTUAL DAMAGES"
Video Credit Google.com
The "Justices" Have Now Cut Off Their Own Ability To Punish Bad Corporate Behavior
Overstuffed corporate pigs and sociopathic corporations everywhere breathed a polluted sigh of relief this week as the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) handed U.S. oil-giant Exxon $5 billion as a reward for the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Lower Court judges had "erroneously" placed the environment, the economy, and public health & safety in Alaska ahead of the oil company's profits by assessing Exxon $5.5 billion in compensatory and punitive damages for the negligent, careless and entirely avoidable environmental disaster. Now 32,000 Alaskans whose lives & livelihoods were ruined by the world's largest oil company will split only the $0.5 billion left after SCOTUS's gift to their corporate masters.
Beaches in Valdez are still fouled by oil spilled from the supertanker twenty years ago. The local herring fishery has never recovered, smashing the local economy and bringing endless pain and suffering to thousands of Alaskans. What little is left of the fisheries is now being decimated by skyrocketing oil & gas prices, bringing Exxon well over a billion dollars in profits every day. But that is all "irrelevant" to the corporate lawyers who have now gained control of your last bastion of Justice in America, SCOTUS, thanks to the corporatist Republican Party.
The $5,000,000,000 is equal to two days' profits for Exxon as reported by the company in FEB 2008, before the huge run-up in prices this Spring. Alaskans who have been waiting almost twenty years for relief, will each receive $15,000 or less. For most of the victims, this covers almost none of the actual damage they have suffered, economically and environmentally.
Despite all the conclusive evidence which the Court itself included in its' own decision proving that punitive damage awards have not been excessive in the vast majority of cases, the Court has now established a broad precedent severely limiting victims' rights in favor of corporate profits in every single case that will ever be brought against any business at any level anywhere in these United States. If some lower Court defies SCOTUS, the Corp's now know that they can stretch their appeals out for decades, and then get a free pass from SCOTUS, just like Exxon. Additionally, corporations can now predict exactly how much environmental, economic and other damages will cost them, and simply add it to their prices. In effect, we will all pay for future oil spills out of our own pockets. The same now goes for nuclear, chemical and biological disasters, including the current widespread negligent food-poisonings. There is no longer any judicial deterrent to corporate crime. The law will now punish only those without money or corporate status. A two-tier system of "justice" is officially in effect.
The Wild-West judicial activists on the bench have done what so-called conservatives promise never to do when they are up for nomination to SCOTUS: Usurp the role of Congress in writing, or deciding not to write new laws. (Et stare decisis be damned.) Congress, itself under corporate control, will likely do nothing to protect its' own powers, even after the Exxon outrage. The people have no recourse at all. The people have no one to blame but themselves, for allowing a corporate takeover of their formerly democratic government. The people, that's you.
The question is, will the American people now see what has happened to their democracy, and take the risks and pay the costs of regaining control of their own lives? Or will they settle down into self-satisfied sheepdom, and accept their role as landless peasants in a corporate medieval State, where they have no say, and no rights at all? SCOTUS, POTUS and Big Awl are betting "YES" on Prop 2!
Of course, YOU, the people, have a very special opportunity to vote against the Republican-sponsored corporate takeover of the United States of America: Vote. Become active in your local Democratic Party Organization, and demand that President Obama purge all corporate influences in the Party and the Government.
Unless you'd rather RESET at 1065 AD.
"Supreme Court Term Is Mixed For Business, But Wins Were Big
Exxon Valdez Opinion On Damages May Have Broad Impact"
" The Exxon Valdez damages case eventually could prove to be one of the biggest business cases in recent years, said Mark Levy, who heads Kilpatrick Stockton LLP's Supreme Court and appellate practice. 'It's potentially a very significant decision,' Levy said. 'Right off the bat, there's reason to think state courts will pay attention to it and it will be influential on constitutional issues.' Corporate groups consider reducing punitive damages awards one of their top priorities. Chamber President Tom Donohue earlier this week hailed the Exxon Mobil decision, calling it 'good news for companies concerned about reining in excessive punitive damages.' The Supreme Court since 2003 has issued three rulings that place new restrictions on punitive damages awards. The one-to-one ratio spelled out in the Exxon Mobil case, which for now is limited to maritime laws, eventually could narrow the court's broader holding that a single-digit ratio of actual damages to punitive damages is the constitutional limit. "
KTUU NBC ANCHORAGE, AK
"Exxon protesters forced out of CBS live shot"
" Many have forgotten the headlines the Exxon-Valdez oil spill made across the country some two decades ago. But old feelings have resurfaced and are still raw, two days after the Supreme Court ruling that reduced Exxon's punitive damages. When most people think of the Last Frontier they imagine a place of beautiful landscape and abundant wildlife. And yes, it still exists here -- Anchorage has a small army of public relations liaisons who try to sell the state's rich legacy every day. No tourism company ever includes images of America's biggest oil spill in the pamphlets. 'It's damaged a lot of people's lives,' said Greg Garcia, an Exxon protester. Alaskans gathered early Friday morning to protest the Valdez decision, which cut awards from $2.5 billion to $500 million. They hoped to do it in front of a live national audience during an appearance by the Alaska Travel Industry Association on CBS. 'There's increased cancer rates and the destruction of the environment,' Garcia said. 'Meanwhile, (Exxon) has made record profits.' Garcia has lived in Alaska all his life. And when he heard the CBS morning show was featuring a live shot from Alaska to promote tourism, he thought this was appropriate. 'We were going to have "Boycott Exxon," and we decided no 'shame' is really appropriate for this,' Garcia said. But ATIA, which arranged the live appearances, did not agree. In a statement, organizers say the protesters were politely asked to move and their permit for the park allowed them to set parameters for the CBS shoot. Police stepped in. 'They were free to stand along the sidelines and be out of the vision and the view of the cameras and I don't think that's what they were looking for,' said Anchorage Police Department spokesman Lt. Paul Honeman. CBS had a special use permit during the park's closed hours giving them and police the right to make Garcia leave. "
"Court sets firm limit on punitive damages
Analysis: Overturning Exxon judgment could set far-reach precedent"
" Although most experts had expected the court to overturn the large punitive damage award, few expected the court to define an explicit rule about what's excessive and what's not. In the Exxon case, the court said that punitive damages in federal maritime law cases shouldn't exceed compensatory damages. Compensatory damages in civil cases are designed to reimburse those who've been injured for a loss or injury, while punitive damages are intended to punish and deter defendants. Business groups have argued that punitive damages are out of control, costing businesses and the economy billions every year. Much of the majority opinion cited statistics on punitive damages, rather than federal law or case law. The court found that "runaway" awards are not the norm, despite the criticism. 'The most recent studies tend to undercut much of it,' the court said. Yet the court said there is a real problem in the spread between the highest and the lowest individual awards. Justice is not served if some defendants are randomly hit with extraordinarily large awards, while similar defendants are punished much less severely. The high court said a better alternative is to peg punitive awards to compensatory damages using a ratio or by setting some maximum multiplier for damages, as many states do. Looking back at thousands of cases, the court said the median ratio for all of these punitive and compensatory damages showed a less than 1:1 ratio, a fair standard for maritime cases. One lawyer who filed an amicus brief on behalf of fishermen wrote on the Scotus Blog that the court's ratio was 'arbitrary' round number and designed to create a 'neat and tidy' rule instead of treating each case on its merits. A majority of states that have set similar ratios for damages have adopted a 3:1 ratio, the court noted. The court's ruling only applies to federal cases, so states can still apply the higher ratio to state cases. The court said it was dissuaded from using a higher ratio because in these states there tended to be little to distinguish awards where defendants were 'worse than negligent but less than malicious' and those with the 'most egregious conduct.' Once a ratio was set, it tended to be used across the board in all cases. "
"Valdez ruling hurts Alaska relationship with Exxon"
" ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - The state of Alaska vowed to tighten oversight on Exxon Mobil after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a $2.5 billion (1.3 billion pounds) punitive damage judgment for the 1989 Valdez disaster. 'It's sad to consider that there's probably celebration going on in some industry board rooms right now, while right here in Alaska you're not seeing that celebration,' Gov. Sarah Palin told Reuters on Wednesday. 'Exxon will know that we're very disappointed in this ruling. They will know that our commitment is to stringent, responsible oversight of the industry,' said Palin during a break in a cabinet meeting on the subject. The Republican governor said new oil developments will not take place in Alaska unless they meet safety and ethics standards. As word spread on the Supreme Court ruling, Alaskans expressed anger, disappointment and shock. "
PORTLAND BUSINESS JOURNAL
"Court slashes Exxon damages"
" The settlement comes to about $15,000 per Alaskan affected by the spill. Exxon had fought to at least lessen the punitive damages verdict issued by an Alaskan jury in 1994 after the 1989 accident that poured 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound. Stoll said in March that about 20 percent of the case's original clients have died since the suit was filed. The court voted 5 to 3 in favor of reducing the fees, with Judge Samuel Alito abstaining because he holds Exxon stock. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and David Souter were in the majority. Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer dissented. "
"Worker Safety Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Alaska 1989"
" 'An average of two oil spills are reported world-wide every week. The world's largest oil spill took place in Prince William Sound, Alaska in March of 1989. 11,000 workers were involved in the clean-up of the 3,000 square mile Exxon Valdez oil spill. All were exposed to toxic substances, and many suffered long-lasting health problems as a result.' "
"Exxon Valdez $2.5 bln oil spill ruling overturned"
" The nation's highest court ruled that the punitive damages should be limited to an amount equal to the total relevant compensatory damages of $507.5 million. In the court's opinion, Justice David Souter concluded that the $2.5 billion in punitive damages was excessive under federal maritime law, and should be cut to the amount of actual harm. By a 5-3 vote, the justices overturned a ruling by a U.S. Court of Appeals that had awarded the record punitive damages to about 32,000 commercial fishermen, Alaska natives, property owners and others harmed by the nation's worst tanker spill. Soaring oil prices have propelled Exxon Mobil to previously unforeseen levels of profitability in recent years, posting earnings of $40.6 billion in 2007. It took the company just under two days to bring in $2.5 billion in revenue during the first quarter of 2007. The Exxon Valdez supertanker ran aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound in March 1989, spilling about 11 million gallons of crude oil. The spill spread oil to more than 1,200 miles of coastline, closed fisheries and killed thousands of marine mammals and hundreds of thousands of sea birds. A federal jury in Alaska awarded $5 billion in punitive damages in 1994. A federal judge later reduced the punitive damages to $4.5 billion, and the appeals court further cut it to $2.5 billion. Exxon Mobil, the largest U.S. company by market capitalization, appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing it already has paid more than $3.5 billion for the spill. "
"Prince William Sound and Fury: Oil Giant Dodges Punitive Damages for Valdez Spill"
" 'This means that corporations like Exxon can simply put a price tag on the destruction of our marine life, our oceans and, ultimately families,' says Jim Ayers, Juneau-based vice president at marine environmental group Oceana and the first executive director of the trust set up to manage the recovery and restoration of the sound. 'They can estimate the value of that loss, put it into the expense column and roll forward with blatant disregard.' The majority in the 5–4 court ruling decided that punitive damages should be capped at the level of actual damages proved—in effect, a new legal standard, at least for maritime cases such as oil spills from tankers. 'The justices stepped forward and did what Congress refused to do, which is set limits on the punitive damages,' Ayers says, who also notes that the ruling eliminates an important deterrent for bad behavior. This could prove particularly relevant in the Arctic, which, thanks to climate change, is more open to future oil exploration and shipping. 'This means that Exxon and other oil companies can now roll into the Arctic, the last great pristine environment, and do whatever it takes to collect and transport oil,' Ayers says. 'They can now buy and destroy America's resources for a mere pittance. All they need to do is throw a few bucks at the family that it devastates.' "
"A punitive ruling
Supreme Court strayed when it reduced punitive damages paid to Exxon Valdez oil-spill victims"
" The problem was that the court was not drawing on any previous court rulings (because none exist) when it arrived at this arbitrary decision. It's what conservatives call 'judicial activism' when so-called liberal judges do it. As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent, 'Congress is far better situated than is this court to assess the empirical data, and to balance competing policy interests, before making such a choice.' Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer also dissented. (The ninth jurist, Justice Samuel Alito, an Exxon stockholder, had recused himself.) Ginsburg wrote, 'The new law made by the court should have been left to Congress.' So it should. Yet again, as in cases involving automakers, cigarette manufacturers and other companies, the court has sided with big business. As Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said: 'This is good news for companies concerned about reining in excessive punitive damages.' Whether the damages were excessive is questionable: Exxon was originally assessed $5 billion in punitive damages, which at that time, 1994, amounted to about one year of Exxon's profits, The Washington Post reported. The $2.5 billion figure was arrived at in December 2007. By then, Exxon's annual earnings were $40.6 billion. Calling Exxon's conduct 'worse than negligent but less than malicious,' the court slashed that award by 80 percent, to $507.5 million. That's worth about four days of Exxon's profits as of last quarter and gives an average of about $15,000 to each of the more than 32,000 plaintiffs — fishermen, cannery workers and Alaska natives. When the Exxon Valdez ran aground on a reef in March 1989, it spilled nearly 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, the worst recorded spill in North America. It fouled almost 1,300 miles of Alaska coastline, wiped out hundreds of thousands of birds and marine animals and damaged or destroyed the livelihoods of more than 32,000 residents. The captain, a known alcoholic, had been drinking and was not on the bridge at the time of the grounding. "
"Stevens blocks bill to help victims of Exxon Valdez oil spill"
" U.S. Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) blocked legislation today which would have included a provision that allows plaintiffs of the Exxon Valdez oil spill to average any settlement that they receive in connection with pending litigation in the federal courts over three years for federal tax purposes and allow these individuals to use these funds to make contributions to retirement accounts. Today, with the help of Stevens, the Senate failed to pass a gas relief bill and a tax relief bill.The Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act was a tax relief package that would have included the Exxon Valdez provision. The legislation also included incentives for clean energy, college tuition tax credit, deductibility of state and local sales tax for states without income taxes, and research and development tax credit. Alaska 's nearly 8,000 teachers would have saved $2 million under a provision that allowed teachers to deduct their own money spent on classroom supplies. In addition, it would have change the child tax credit to include an additional 2.9 million children. "
[Cross-posted yesterday at Democracy For California]
"Actual" damages comes down to a shoebox full of receipts; i.e., chump change, in almost every case. A pretty young actress who has her face horribly slashed through negligence would only get a settlement equal to the cost of emergency room treatment, if that. If the treatment itself left a scar that ruined her chances as an actress, she might get some more chump-change based on the statistical odds against any aspiring actress actually making any money.
The real compensation comes under things left up to the jury's discretion, like "pain & suffering," "loss of consortium," and punitive damages. Big business would love to see these things eliminated, which would limit their liability to mere chump change, even in the worst cases.
To the corporations and their tame pet judges, everything is about money: How to screw people out of it while paying out nothing themselves. In their world-view, nothing has changed since the time of Charles Dickens. That's the "good old days" they want to go back to: Scrooge v. Cratchit.
That was a time when juries had little or no power to set things right, to make victims whole. It took a hundred and fifty years of struggle in the Courts and the Legislatures in America to reach the point where we were before this Exxon give-away. Now corrupt right-wing corporate lawyers on the bench can ignore our entire jury system, which sets us back before Magna Carta. That's how serious this is.
The Democrats in Congress have been rubber-stamping almost all Repukelickin' judge-nominations provided that they pretended to be neutral on abortion and were not shown on You-Tube in Nazi regalia. As corporate lawyers themselves, many of our legislators simply don't see any problem with packing the Courts with representatives of only one side in the most common legal issues faced by ordinary people: Corporate malfeasance and misfeasance.
This is what all the peculiar right-wing blather is about on "trawl-loyahs." Big biz loves it.
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