Faculty Scholarship 1994 - Present

Philip Morris USA v. Williams: Punitive Damages Round III

In Philip Morris USA v. Williams, the United States Supreme Court decided that the Due Process Clause prohibits a state from using punitive damages awards to punish a defendant for injuries it inflicts upon non-parties, i.e., strangers to the litigation because such awards amount to a taking of property without due process, there being no fair notice of the severity of the penalty the state may impose. This decision is the third in the United States Supreme Court�s recent forays into the constitutionality of punitive damages awards, but the first punitive damages case decided by the Court since the retirement of Justice O�Connor and the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist, and the addition of Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts to the Court. The purpose of this paper is to examine how Phillip Morris USA v. Williams fits into the trilogy of punitive damages decisions issued by the United States Supreme Court, to assess the impact of the Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito�s joining the majority decision, and to determine the reach of the Due Process Clause in restricting punitive damages awards.