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Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker

ELR Citation: 38 ELR 20149
Nos. No. 07-219, (U.S., 06/25/2008)

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned $2.5 billion in punitive damages imposed on an oil shipping company in connection with the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Clean Water Act's water pollution penalties do not preempt punitive damages awards in maritime spill cases. Nevertheless, the punitive damages award was excessive as a matter of maritime common law. The award should be limited to an amount equal to compensatory damages—in this case, $507.5 million. The Court, however, was equally divided on whether maritime law allows corporate liability for punitive damages based on the acts of managerial agents. It therefore left the Ninth Circuit’s opinion undisturbed in this respect. Souter, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C.J., and Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas, JJ., joined, and in which Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined, as to Parts I, II, and III. Scalia, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Thomas, J., joined. Stevens, J., Ginsburg, J., and Breyer, J., filed opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part. Alito, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.