On April 7, 2003, before any briefing on the appeals in this case, the Supreme Court decided . In the United States Supreme Court revisited the due process issue as to punitive damages in the context of an insurance bad faith case. On August 18, 2003, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the $4 billion punitive damages judgment and remanded the case to this court to reconsider the punitive damages award in light of Upon remand, this court called for supplemental briefing from the parties to aid in its reconsideration. Exxon submitted its supplemental briefing in the form of a second renewed motion for reduction or remittitur of punitive damages. This motion is opposed by plaintiffs. Oral argument on the second renewed motion for reduction or remittitur of punitive damages was heard on December 3, 2003.
will also be published as .
See Order, Clerk's Docket No. 7737.
Order re Further Proceedings on Punitive Damages Award (Aug. 26, 2003), Clerk's Docket No. 7714.
Clerk's Docket No. 7753.
Clerk's Docket No. 7767.
After considering the parties' briefing and hearing oral argument, the court has determined it most practical, for purposes of reevaluating the punitive damages award, to vacate Order No. 358 in its entirety. adds no new, free-standing factor to the constitutional analysis of punitive damages that the court might "tie onto" its previous order. It is the court's view that while bringing the guideposts into sharper focus, does not change the analysis. In fact, there are aspects of the due process evaluation of punitive damages awards which have not changed at all as a result of As a consequence, although the court is vacating Order No. 358, where the court perceives no need or necessity of further exposition of the facts or its view of the law, the court will simply replicate what it has previously said in Order No. 358.
Vacating Order No. 358 impliedly leaves Exxon's Renewed Motion for Reduction of Punitive Damages Award, Clerk's Docket No. 7487, unresolved. In light of Exxon's Second Renewed Motion for the Reduction of Punitive Damages, the motion at Clerk's Docket No. 7487 is denied as moot.
By so stating, the court does not mean that it has adopted plaintiffs' suggestion that breaks no new ground and is limited to the facts of that case. There is new guidance from the Supreme Court; however, there is still no "bright-line" rule as to what is or is not unconstitutional as regards punitive damages. The three guideposts still apply.
Terrible things have happened in Alaska on Good Friday. On Good Friday, March 27, 1964, the strongest earthquake ever recorded in North America literally relocated the seabed of most of Prince William Sound and the Kenai Peninsula. On Good Friday, March 24, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez was run aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
On March 24, 1989, Exxon's co-defendant, Joseph Hazelwood, was in command of the Exxon Valdez. He was assisted by a third mate and a helmsman. Captain Hazelwood was a skilled mariner, but he was an alcoholic. Worse yet, he was a relapsed alcoholic; and, before departing Valdez, Alaska, on March 23, 1989, he had, more probably than not, consumed sufficient alcohol to incapacitate a non-alcoholic. As the Exxon Valdez exited Valdez Arm, Captain Hazelwood assumed command of the vessel from a harbor pilot and made arrangements to divert the vessel from the normal shipping lanes in order to avoid considerable ice which had calved off Columbia Glacier. That diversion from the standard shipping lanes took the vessel directly toward Bligh Reef. The captain gave the third mate explicit, accurate orders which, if carried out by the third mate, would have returned the vessel to the shipping lanes without danger of grounding on Bligh Reef. The third mate, who had completed the requirements for a captain's license, was, more probably than not, overworked and excessively tired at the time in question. He neglected to commence a turn of the vessel at the point where, and the time when, he had been directed to do so. At that critical time, Captain Hazelwood had left the bridge to attend to paperwork. When the third mate realized that he had proceeded too far in the direction of Bligh Reef, he commenced a turn, but it was too late.
Like so many great tragedies, this one occurred when three or more unfortunate acts and/or omissions took place in close proximity to one another, and but for any one of them, the grounding would likely not have occurred. Joe Hazelwood was under the influence of alcohol. Instead of staying on the bridge to verify that his orders were carried out, he tended to paperwork below. The third mate, being overworked and tired, neglected to carry out the orders which he had been given. The grounding might still have been avoided but for several other converging circumstances: the captain had put the vessel on an automated system for increasing its speed prior to completing the maneuver around the ice in the shipping lane; and the third mate, upon realizing his oversight, did not turn the vessel as sharply as he might have.
It has never been established that there was any design, mechanical, or other fault in the Exxon Valdez. It responded to its human masters as intended and expected. Thus it is entirely clear why the Exxon Valdez grounded on Bligh Reef: the cause was pure and simple human frailty.
Defendant Exxon Shipping owned the Exxon Valdez. Exxon employed Captain Hazelwood, and kept him employed knowing that he had an alcohol problem. The captain had supposedly been rehabilitated, but Exxon knew better before March 24, 1989. Hazelwood had sought treatment for alcohol abuse in 1985 but had "fallen off the wagon" by the spring of 1986. Exxon knew that Hazelwood had relapsed and that he was drinking while on board ship. Exxon officials heard multiple reports of Hazelwood's relapse, and Hazelwood was being watched by other Exxon officers. Yet, Exxon continued to allow Hazelwood to command a supertanker carrying a hazardous cargo. Because Exxon did nothing despite its knowledge that Hazelwood was once again drinking, Captain Hazelwood was the person in charge of a vessel as long as three football fields and carrying 53 million gallons of crude oil. Exxon officials knew that it was dangerous to have a captain with an alcohol problem commanding a supertanker. Exxon officials also knew that oil and fisheries could not mix with one another. Exxon officials knew that carrying huge volumes of crude oil through Prince William Sound was a dangerous business, yet they knowingly permitted a relapsed alcoholic to direct the operation of the Exxon Valdez through Prince William Sound.
Captain Hazelwood came to the bridge immediately after the grounding. He timely reported to the United States Coast Guard:
Exxon Valdez [calling Valdez Traffic Control]. We should be on your radar there. We've fetched up hard aground north of Goose Island off Bligh Reef and evidently leaking some oil and we're gonna be here for a while....
Plaintiffs' Exhibit 92A, Excerpts of Record, Vol. II--Trial Exhibits, attached to Plaintiffs' Opposition, Clerk's Docket No. 7501.
Despite the fact that he was aware of oil boiling up through the seawater on both sides of the vessel, Captain Hazelwood attempted to extract the vessel from the reef. Had he succeeded in backing the vessel off the reef or driving it across the reef, the Exxon Valdez would probably have foundered, risking the loss of the entire cargo and the lives of those aboard. However, the vessel was really hard aground. It could wiggle but not be moved off Bligh Reef.
Transcript of Trial Testimony of Joseph J. Hazelwood at 439, Excerpts of Record, Vol. I--Trial Transcript, attached to Plaintiffs' Opposition, Clerk's Docket No. 7501.
The best available estimate of the crude oil lost from the Exxon Valdez into Prince William Sound is about 11 million gallons. In the days following the grounding, about 42 million gallons of crude oil were lightered off the Exxon Valdez by other tankers. This process was very dangerous. The lightering process was necessarily taking place in a pool of crude oil. A spark from static electricity or other mechanical or electrical sources might have set fire to the crude oil.
Throughout these proceedings, plaintiff W. Findlay Abbott has contended that far more than 11 million gallons of crude oil were actually spilled from the Exxon Valdez into Prince William Sound. The court has repeatedly rejected these contentions for lack of any substantial evidence to support Mr. Abbott's contentions. For example, his qui tam action, United States ex rel. Abbott v. Exxon Corp., No. A96-0041-CV, was dismissed by this court and that dismissal was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, . There is no reliable evidence in the record that a larger spill was covered up by Exxon.
The crude oil lost from the Exxon Valdez spread far and wide around Prince William Sound, mostly in a westerly direction. Counter-currents which pass through the sound in a westerly direction (the primary North Pacific currents flow from west to east) took the crude oil past numerous islands, spreading to the coast of the Kenai Peninsula, Cook Inlet, and Kodiak Island. As the oil spread, it disrupted the lives and livelihoods of those in its path, including the 32,677 punitive damages class members. Commercial fisheries throughout this area were totally disrupted, with entire fisheries being closed for the 1989 season. As a result, commercial fishermen not only suffered economic losses but also the emotional distress that comes from having one's means of making a living destroyed. A high percentage of commercial fishermen suffered from severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or a combination of all three. Subsistence fishing by residents of Prince William Sound and Lower Cook Inlet villages was also disrupted. The disruption to subsistence fishing deeply affected Native Alaskans, for whom subsistence fishing is not merely a way to feed their families but an important part of their culture. Research indicated that Native Alaskans also experienced great emotional distress following the spill. Shore-based businesses dependent upon the fishing industry were also disrupted as were the resources of cities such as Cordova.
J. Steven Picou and Duane A. Gill, "The Exxon Valdez Disaster as Localized Environmental Catastrophe: Dissimilarities to Risk Society Theory" in Risk in the Modern Age: Social Theory, Science and Environmental Decisionmaking, Maurie J. Cohen, ed. (2000) at 160-62, pertinent part attached as Exhibit 6 to Declaration of David W. Oesting, which is appended to Plaintiffs' Opposition, Clerk's Docket No. 7501.
Id. at 160-61.
In keeping with its legal obligations, Exxon undertook a massive cleanup effort. Approximately $2.1 billion was ultimately spent in efforts to remove the spilled crude oil from the waters and beaches of Prince William Sound, Lower Cook Inlet, and Kodiak Island. Also in accordance with its legal obligations attendant to spilling crude oil, Exxon undertook a voluntary claims program, ultimately paying out $303 million, principally to fishermen whose livelihood was disrupted for the year 1989 and ensuing years up to 1994.
See , which imposes a duty upon an owner or operator of a vessel that spills oil to clean up its discharge.
Litigation over the grounding was soon commenced. The civil suits came first, but developed slowly because of their number and complexity. Both the United States Government and the State of Alaska sued Exxon for environmental damage. That litigation was expeditiously settled by means of consent decrees under which Exxon agreed to pay to the governments, for environmental damage, $900 million over a period of ten years. The decrees contain an "opener" provision, allowing the governments to make additional claims of up to $100 million for environmental damage not known when the settlements were reached.
United States v. Exxon Corp., No. A91-0082-CV (Clerk's Docket No. 46 at 7-8), and Alaska v. Exxon Corp., No. A91-0083-CV (Clerk's Docket No. 26 at 7-8).
See Consent Decree and Agreement at 18-19, Clerk's Docket No. 46 in United States v. Exxon Corp., No. A91-0082-CV, and Clerk's Docket No. 26 in Alaska v. Exxon Corp., No. A91-0083-CV.
Captain Hazelwood was prosecuted by the State of Alaska for operating a watercraft while intoxicated, reckless endangerment, negligent discharge of oil, and three felony counts of criminal mischief. That litigation became involved in legal complexities which led to multiple appeals. Some nine years after the grounding, a single misdemeanor conviction for negligent discharge of oil was affirmed on appeal.
; ; and .
Exxon was prosecuted by the federal government for various environmental crimes: violating the Clean Water Act, and ; violating the Refuse Act, and ; violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and ; violating the Ports and Waterways Safety Act, ; and violating the Dangerous Cargo Act, . Exxon Corporation pled guilty to one count of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Exxon Shipping pled guilty to one count each of violating the Clean Water Act, the Refuse Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. They were jointly fined $25 million and were ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $100 million.
See Judgments at Clerk's Docket Nos. 235 and 236 in United States v. Exxon Corp., No. A90-0015-CR.
The civil cases (involving thousands of plaintiffs) were ultimately (but with a few exceptions) consolidated into this case. Municipal claims and some Native corporation claims were tried in state court. In the consolidated cases, there was never any dispute as to Exxon's liability for compensatory damages. Only the amount of the plaintiffs' economic losses was controverted. As a consequence of procedural orders in this case and the excellent, cooperative approach taken by counsel for all parties, an effective and efficient trial protocol for the plaintiffs' claims was developed. As the time for trial grew near, this court became convinced of the necessity of creating a single, punitive damages claims class. On April 14, 1994, the court granted conditional final approval of a mandatory punitive damages class, consisting
More or less simultaneously with the trial in this case, a state court civil trial involving several Native corporations was conducted. The jury awarded the corporations almost $6 million in damages. . The trial court offset pretrial settlements and payments against the jury award. Because the pretrial payments exceeded the jury award, final judgments were entered by which the corporations "took nothing" from Exxon. Recently, a straggling case involving six Alaska communities was tried in state court to a defense verdict. The cities were unsuccessful in their efforts to recover from Exxon for alleged additional expenses incurred by them as a consequence of the oil spill.
of all persons or entities who possess or have asserted claims for punitive damages against Exxon and/or Exxon Shipping which arise from or relate in any way to the grounding of the EXXON VALDEZ or the resulting oil spill.
Order No. 204 (granting conditional final approval and certifying mandatory punitive damages class) at 2, Clerk's Docket No. 4856.
By agreement with the parties, trial as regards Exxon's and Captain Hazelwood's liability for punitive damages was commenced on May 2, 1994. In this Phase I of the trial, the jury found Exxon and Captain Hazelwood to be liable for punitive damages.
Phase II of the trial dealt with compensatory damages for plaintiffs' economic losses. In Phase IIA, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the fishermen in the amount of $287 million. Phase IIB, a separate aspect of the compensatory claims having to do with the Native economic claims, was settled without trial for $22.6 million.
Phase III of the trial focused upon the amount of punitive damages which should be imposed upon the defendants. As a predicate or base for the punitive damages trial, the parties entered into a stipulation regarding impacts from the oil spill which was read to the jury at the beginning of Phase III. The stipulation outlined the actual damages that had been resolved in Phase IIB of the trial and the actual damages that were to be resolved in Phase IV of the trial and in Alaska state court proceedings. The damage estimates outlined in the stipulation exceeded $350 million. The jury was, of course, also aware that it had awarded $287 million in damages in Phase IIA of the trial. The evidence presented during Phase III focused on Exxon's and Hazelwood's conduct as it related to the oil spill. While evidence of extra- territorial conduct was admitted, it had a nexus to the grounding of the Exxon Valdez and the resulting oil spill.
In consultation with counsel, unusually detailed punitive damages instructions were developed for purposes of this case. The jury was instructed that punitive damages are awarded for the purposes of punishment and deterrence, and that the fact that it had found the defendants' conduct reckless did not require it to award punitive damages. The jury was specifically instructed to use reason in setting the amount of punitive damages and that any award of punitive damages should bear a reasonable relationship to the harm caused the members of the plaintiff class by the defendants' misconduct. The jury was instructed that punitive damages are not intended to provide compensation for plaintiffs' losses and that they should assume that the plaintiffs had been fully compensated for the damages that they had suffered as a result of the oil spill. Factors that the jury was told it could consider in setting an amount of punitive damages included the reprehensibility of the defendants' conduct, the amount of actual and potential harm suffered by the members of the plaintiff class as a result of the defendants' conduct, and the financial condition of the defendants. As to the reprehensibility factor, the jury was instructed that in determining the reprehensibility of the defendants' conduct it could consider "the nature of the conduct, the duration of the conduct, and defendant's awareness that the conduct was occurring." As to the defendants' wealth, the jury was instructed to consider the defendants' financial condition only in terms of what level of award would be necessary to achieve punishment and deterrence.
See Jury Instruction No. 22:
The purposes for which punitive damages are awarded are:
(1) to punish a wrongdoer for extraordinary misconduct; and
(2) to warn defendants and others and deter them from doing the same.
Clerk's Docket No. 5890.
See Jury Instruction No. 20, which in pertinent part, reads: "The fact that you have determined that the conduct of Joseph Hazelwood and of the Exxon defendants was reckless does not mean that you are required to make an award of punitive damages against either one or both of them." Clerk's Docket No. 5890.
See Jury Instruction No. 25, which in pertinent part reads:
the amount of punitive damages may not be determined arbitrarily. You must use reason in setting the amount....[A]ny punitive damages award must have a rational basis in the evidence in the case. A punitive damages award may not be larger than an amount that bears a reasonable relationship to the harm caused to members of the plaintiff class by a defendant's misconduct.... Also, the award may not be larger than what is reasonably necessary to achieve society's goals of punishment and deterrence.
Clerk's Docket No. 5890.
See Jury Instruction No. 26, which reads:
An award of punitive damages is not intended to provide compensation for any loss suffered by any plaintiff. In determining whether to make an award of punitive damages you should assume that all plaintiffs have been or will be fully compensated for all damages they may have suffered as a result of the oil spill. You may not make an award of punitive damages for the purpose of compensating any plaintiff.
Clerk's Docket No. 5890.
The jury was instructed, however, that "[t]he fact that you have found a defendant's conduct to be reckless does not necessarily mean that it was reprehensible...." See Jury Instruction No. 30, Clerk's Docket No. 5890.
See Jury Instruction No. 27, which reads in pertinent part:
In determining the amount of punitive damages to award, if any, you may consider, among other factors: (a) the degree of reprehensibility of the defendants' conduct,
(b) the magnitude of the harm likely to result from the defendants' conduct, as well as the magnitude of the harm that has actually occurred, and
(c) the financial condition of the defendants.
Clerk's Docket No. 5890.
Jury Instruction No. 30, Clerk's Docket No. 5890.
See Jury Instruction No. 32, which reads:
In considering whether an award of punitive damages is appropriate in this case and, if so, in what amount, you may consider the financial condition of a defendant. This does not necessarily mean that you should punish one defendant more than another defendant simply because of their relative financial conditions. If you find that a defendant's financial condition affects the level of award necessary to punish the defendant and to deter future wrongful conduct by that defendant and others, you may take the defendant's financial condition into account for that purpose.
Clerk's Docket No. 5890.
The jury was instructed that it should not count any damage to natural resources or the environment in general when assessing the harm suffered by members of the plaintiff class. The jury was also instructed that it could consider as mitigating factors the existence of criminal fines or civil awards against the defendants for the same conduct and the extent to which the defendants had taken steps to remedy the consequences of the oil spill and to prevent another oil spill.
See Jury Instruction No. 29, which reads in pertinent part: "In determining the harm caused by the oil spill, you should not consider any damage to natural resources or to the environment generally [.]" Clerk's Docket No. 5890.
See Jury Instruction No. 36, which reads in pertinent part:
In considering whether an award of punitive damages is appropriate in this case, and, if so, in what amount, you may consider whether a defendant has paid other criminal fines or civil penalties. You may also consider whether a defendant has made payments for compensatory damages, settlements, and incurred other costs and expenses of remedial measures. You may also consider the extent to which a defendant has been subjected to condemnation or reproval by society as a result of other means, such as loss of standing in the community, public vilification, loss of reputation, and similar matters.
Clerk's Docket No. 5890.
See Jury Instruction No. 35, which reads in pertinent part, that "[i]n considering whether an award of punitive damages is appropriate in this case, and, if so, in what amount, you should consider steps taken by a defendant to prevent recurrence of the conduct in question--in this case, another oil spill." Clerk's Docket No. 5890.
The Phase III trial was relatively short, lasting only five days, but the jury deliberated for approximately twenty-two days before returning a verdict. The jury awarded a breath-taking $5 billion in punitive damages against the Exxon defendants, and $5,000 against Captain Hazelwood.