Breaking: USSC tosses Philip Morris verdict (PLUS, INFO ON OTHER COURT NEWS – GITMO DETAINEE RULING)

Via AP:

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court threw out a $79.5 million punitive damages award to a smoker’s widow Tuesday, a boon to businesses seeking stricter limits on big-dollar jury verdicts.

The 5-4 ruling was a victory for Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris USA, which contested an Oregon Supreme Court decision upholding the verdict.

In the majority opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court said the verdict could not stand because the jury in the case was not instructed that it could punish Philip Morris only for the harm done to the plaintiff, not to other smokers whose cases were not before it.

States must “provide assurances that juries are not asking the wrong question … seeking, not simply to determine reprehensibility, but also to punish for harm caused strangers” Breyer said.

The decision did not address whether the size of the award was constitutionally excessive, as Philip Morris had asked.

Punitive damages are money intended to punish a defendant for its behavior and to deter repetition.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and David Souter, joined with Breyer.

Dissenting were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, John Paul Stevens and Clarence Thomas.

Some interesting alliances there, eh? You don’t usually see Thomas’ and Scalia’s names next to Ginsburg’s …

Update: The ruling will likely be appealed to the USSC, but nevertheless, score one for the admin on Gitmo detainees and their ‘rights’:

WASHINGTON – Guantanamo Bay detainees may not challenge their detention in U.S. courts, a federal appeals court said Tuesday in a ruling upholding a key provision in President Bush’s anti-terrorism law.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 2-1 that civilian courts no longer have the authority to consider whether the military is illegally holding foreigners.

“Federal courts have no jurisdiction in these cases,” Judge A. Raymond Randolph wrote for the court majority in his 25-page opinion.

Barring detainees from the U.S. court system was a key provision in the Military Commissions Act, which Bush pushed through Congress last year to set up a system to prosecute terrorism suspects.

The ruling is all but certain to be appealed to the Supreme Court, which last year struck down the Bush administration’s original plan for trying detainees before military commissions.

The decision can be read here. (Hat tip: Jonathan Adler)

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