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Juzwin v. Amtorg Trading Corp.

Citation: 19 ELR 21067
No. No. 87-3876, 705 F. Supp. 103/(D.N.J., 03/09/1989)

The court rules that multiple awards of punitive damages for the same course of conduct violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The court first rules that actions for punitive damages are not sufficiently criminal in nature to trigger the protection of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Although punitive damages are intended to penalize the tortfeasor rather than providing a remedial measure of damages, punitive damages are not a criminal sanction. Manufacturers involved in mass tort litigation are not charged with violations of criminal statutes, and little stigma is attached to a punitive damage award as compared to a criminal conviction. Moreover, the action is a private one, in which governmental authorities are not involved. The court then rules that civil punitive damage awards do not violate the "excessive fines" clause of the Eighth Amendment. Even if the excessive fines provision did apply in the context of a civil punitive damages award, the court holds, it cannot be the basis for striking the plaintiff's claim in this case. No factual findings have been made regarding the imposition of previous punitive damage awards on any of the defendants or that any additional awards would cross the undefined line between acceptable awards and excessive ones.

The court then rules that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires a limit on the number of times and the extent to which a defendant may be subject to the imposition of successive awards of punitive damages for a single course of conduct. The distinctions between civil and criminal actions are irrelevant under the Due Process Clause, which requires that adjudicatory proceedings be fundamentally fair regardless of the context. The court holds that the plaintiff's claim for punitive damages for injuries arising from exposure to asbestos violates the Due Process Clause's requirement of fundamental fairness. Certification of a class action, which would be one means of limiting multiple punitive damage awards, is not available in the context of asbestos litigation. Although there may be conduct that is so outrageous or a product that is so dangerous that a jury intends to terminate a defendant company's very ability to continue that course of conduct or produce that product, those rare circumstances should be the decision of a single jury, not the inadvertent result of a series of awards the sum total of which is not subject to judicial review.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Francis A. Tomes
Garruto, Galex & Cantor
P.O. Box 308, 14 Old Bridge Turnpike, East Brunswick NJ 08816
(201) 214-1800

Counsel for Defendant-Third Party Plaintiff
John J. Cation
Budd, Larner, Gross, Picillo, Rosenbaum, Greenberg & Sade
150 John J. Kennedy Parkway, CN 1000, Short Hills NJ 07078-0999
(201) 379-4800