The Third Circuit today ordered remittitur of a $30 million punitive damages award to $750,000. The district court had already reduced the punies to $2 million. But the court of appeals held that the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment couldn’t abide more than about a 7:1 ratio between actual damages ($109,000) and punitive ones ($750,000). CGB Occupational Therapy, Inc. v. RHA Health Svcs., Inc., Nos. 05-3409 & 05-3586 (3d Cir. Aug. 23, 2007).
This in spite of the court’s conclusion that "a substantial punitive damages award is warranted to prevent [defendant] Sunrise from gaining the unfair advantage of a reputation for bleeding legal adversaries to death before they can vindicate their rights" through obnoxious and abusive litigation tactics. Slip op. at 22.
Blawgletter admires the Third Circuit’s restraint in letting Sunrise off far more lightly than the district court did (and far, far more lightly than the jury would have). But we wonder why the constitution would care a farthing about a litigant who couldn’t hide its arrogance and contempt for civil justice from the judge and jury even for the length of a trial. You reap what you sow, we say.