Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
On the basis of the history and purpose of the Eighth Amendment, its Excessive Fines Clause does not apply to awards of punitive damages in cases between private parties.
Respondents Joseph Kelley and Kelco Disposal, Inc., filed suit against petitioners (collectively BFI) in Federal District Court, charging BFI with antitrust violations and with interfering with Kelco's contractual relations in violation of Vermont tort law. A jury found BFI liable on both counts, and awarded Kelco, in addition to $51,146 in compensatory damages, $6 million in punitive damages on the state-law claim. Denying BFI's post-trial motions, the District Court upheld the jury's punitive damages award. The Court of Appeals affirmed as to both liability and damages, holding that even if the Eighth Amendment were applicable, the punitive damages awarded were not so disproportionate as to be constitutionally excessive.
Do the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment apply to punitive damages awards in cases between private parties?
The court held that the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment does not apply to punitive damages awards in cases between private parties; it does not constrain such an award when the government neither has prosecuted the action nor has any right to recover a share of the damages awarded. The court found that the amendment's history and purpose evinced a legislative intent to apply it only to criminal prosecutions and punishments imposed by the government. The court also held that because petitioner failed to timely raise its due process challenge to the award, the claim would not be considered.