RJR primarily contends that the trial court gave the findings approved in Engle overly broad preclusive effect and thus relieved the plaintiff below, Matilde Martin, of her burden to prove legal causation on her negligence and strict liability claims. RJR also asserts Mrs. Martin failed to prove the reliance element of her fraudulent concealment claim, and that the punitive damage award is excessive and unconstitutional. For the reasons that follow, we find the trial court correctly applied Engle and Mrs. Martin produced sufficient independent evidence to prove RJR's liability for her husband's death. We conclude further the punitive damage award is neither excessive nor violative of RJR's due process rights.
A. Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc.The trial proceedings in the Engle class action were divided into three phases. In Phase I the jury was to consider “common issues relating exclusively to the defendants‟ conduct and the general health effects of smoking” and the classs entitlement to punitive damages. Phase II would determine whether the three class representatives received compensatory damages and the amount of class punitive damages if entitlement was established. Engle, 945 So. 2d at 1256-57. Liability to and compensatory damages for each of the estimated 700,000 class members would be decided in Phase III. Id. at 1258. Phase I concluded with a verdict finding the evidence sufficient to prove strict product liability; fraud and misrepresentation; fraud by concealment; civil conspiracy by misrepresentation and concealment; breach of implied warranty; breach of express warranty; negligence; and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Id. at 1255. The jury also found the class entitled to punitive damages. Id. at 1256-57. In Phase II, the jury awarded $12.7 million in compensatory damages to the class representatives and $145 billion in punitive damages to the entire class. Id. at 1257. Before Phase III proceedings began, the defendants appealed the verdicts.
The appeal went first to the Third District Court of Appeal sub nom. Liggett Group, Inc. v. Engle, 853 So. 2d 434 (Fla. 3d DCA 2003), then to the Florida Supreme Court which made the following rulings pertinent to the case before us. First, the court vacated the punitive damage award because, with no compensatory damage award to the class for comparison, the court could not determine whether the punitive damages were unconstitutionally excessive. 945 So. 2d at 1264-65, 1276. Second, the court decertified the class for Phase III, finding class treatment infeasible “because individualized issues such as legal causation, comparative fault, and damages predominate,” and allowed class members to file individual lawsuits within one year of the court‟s mandate. Id. at 1268, 1277. Third, the court “retain[ed] the jury‟s Phase I findings other than those on the fraud and intentional infliction of emotion [sic] distress claims, which involved highly individualized determinations,” and gave these “common core findings . . . res judicata effect” in any subsequent individual actions by class members. Id. at 1269.
Judge(s): Simone Marstiller
Jurisdiction: Florida Court of Appeals, First District
Related Categories: Civil Procedure , Damages , Torts
|Circuit Court Judge(s)|
|Kent Wetherell, II|
|Trial Court Judge(s)|
|Appellant Lawyer(s)||Appellant Law Firm(s)|
|Charles Beall, Jr.||Hill & Westmoreland, P.A.|
|Larry Hill||Hill & Westmoreland, P.A.|
|Gregory Katsas||Jones Day|
|Appellee Lawyer(s)||Appellee Law Firm(s)|
|David K. Miller||Broad and Cassel|
|Stephen Turner||Broad and Cassel|
|Robert Loehr||Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Eschsner & Proctor, P.A.|
|Matt Schultz||Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Eschsner & Proctor, P.A.|