AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Civil Liability of Law Enforcement Agencies & Personnel
to list of subjects Back
to Legal Publications Menu
Damages: Punitive Government
A federal court
jury awarded a total of approximately $97.5 million for the police shooting
death of a man who was the former mayor of Cottageville, South Carolina.
Damages awarded included $7.5 million in compensatory damages, as well
as $90 million in punitive damages--$60 million against the town and $30
million against the officer. The officer who shot the decedent had been
hired by the department after being previously fired by a number of other
police departments for insubordination, dangerous use of firearms, and
other alleged infractions. The officer claimed that the shooting was in
self-defense because the decedent threw "wild" punches at him.
His attorney argued that the decedent suffered from a bipolar disorder
and was enraged during the incident. The plaintiffs contended that the
decedent had complained about the officer, who wrote traffic tickets worth
over $600,000 from 2008 to 2011, more than any other officer on the force,
and that the shooting was retaliatory for the decedent's complaints intended
to get rid of the officer because of his aggressive policing. Reeves v.
Town of Cottageville, #2:12-cv-02765, U.S. Dist Ct., (D.S.C. Oct. 15, 2014).
In an earlier decision, the trial judge commented that evidence of the
officer's departure from six other law enforcement agencies in seven years
was "obviously admissible" against him with respect to the claim
that the town and police department negligently hired, retained, and supervised
the officer, and a claim for municipal liability for violation of civil
rights. This evidence, the court ruled, had a bearing on whether the municipal
defendants properly evaluated the officer's credentials befire hiring him.
Reeves v. Town of Cottageville, #2:12-cv-02765, 2014 U.S. Dist. Lexis 120619
U.S. Supreme Court holds that a punitive damages award of $145 million was excessive in a case where the compensatory damages were $1 million. Such a disproportionate award of punitive damages violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Courts reviewing punitive damages should consider: (1) the degree of reprehensibility of the defendant's misconduct, (2) the disparity between the actual or potential harm suffered by the plaintiff and the punitive damages award, and (3) the difference between the punitive damages awarded by the jury and the civil penalties authorized or imposed in comparable cases. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Campbell, #01-1289, 123 S. Ct. 1513 (2003). [N/R]
Full federal appeals court, overruling three-judge appeals panel, holds that jury award of $500,000 in punitive damages against a municipality for a police officer's alleged excessive use of force against an arrestee was violative of a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1981, and rejects argument that city "waived" objection to the improper award. Chestnut v. City of Lowell, #00-1840, 00-1996, 305 F.3d 18 (1st Cir. 2002). [2003 LR Jan]
338:27 UPDATE: Federal appeals court reduces jury award of $98 million for failure to protect informant from being murdered to $1.1 million, while upholding determination that officers should have constantly monitored informant as he faced dangerous situation in attempting to purchase crack cocaine; punitive damages were not available against D.C. and informant's mother had no constitutional claim based on loss of companionship of adult non-dependent son. Butera v. District of Columbia, No. 00-7008, 235 F.3d 637 (D.C. Cir. 2001).
279:35 Appeals court overturns $100,000 punitive damage award against Florida sheriff, finding that excessive force suit against him was litigated as an "official capacity" suit, rather than against him in his personal capacity Colvin v. McDougall, 62 F.3d 1316 (11th Cir. 1995).
282:84 Federal appeals court finds that award of $500,000 in punitive damages was unconstitutionally excessive when actual damages awarded was only $2 Pulla v. Amoco Oil, 72 F.3d 648, 1995 U.S. App. Lexis 35580 (8th Cir. 1995), rehearing en banc denied, 1996 U.S. App. Lexis 884 (8th Cir. Jan 22, 1996).
285:131 U.S. Supreme Court rules that an award of punitive damages which was 500 times the size of the compensatory damages awarded by a jury was "grossly excessive" and constitutionally violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment BMW of North America, Inc v. Gore, 116 S.Ct. 1589 (1996).
286:149 Federal appeals court rules that award of punitive damages to plaintiff allegedly hit by police officer was proper even though plaintiff introduced no evidence at trial of officer's net financial worth; court finds that such evidence, while admissible, is not required for an award of punitive damages Kemezy v. Peters, 79 F.3d 33 (7th Cir. 1996).
Oregon state constitutional provision prohibiting judicial review of jury awards of punitive damages in most cases violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, U.S. Supreme Court holds Honda Motor Co, Ltd v. Oberg, 114 S.Ct. 2331 (1994).
U.S. Supreme Court holds that courts should dismiss federal civil rights suits seeking damages when a judgment in favor of the plaintiff necessarily implies that invalidity of the plaintiff's criminal sentence, but that sentence has not already been overturned Heck v. Humphrey, 114 S.Ct. 2364 (1994).
Municipality could not be liable for punitive damages under either federal or Illinois state law; city is not allowed under Illinois law to indemnify individuals for punitive damage awards against them Hammond v. Town of Cicero, 822 F.Supp. 512 (N.D.Ill. 1993).
Trial court properly awarded $4,000 in punitive damages against officers in federal civil rights suit claiming excessive use of force when evidence existed to show that officers were "callously indifferent" to plaintiff's rights when they allegedly beat him during arrest Torres v. City of Waterbury, 621 A.2d 764 (Conn Ap 1993).
Federal law preempts state law notice of claim provisions in civil rights actions brought in state court Felder v. Casey, 108 S.Ct. 2302 (1988).
Limitations on state liability to $100,000 does not violate equal protection Leliefield v. Johnson, 659 P.2d 111 (Idaho 1983).
Plaintiff awarded $6 million for police shooting resulting in mental and physical crippling entitled to prejudgment interest Pressey v. City of Houston, 701 F.Supp. 594 (S.D.Tex. 1988).
Partially at fault plaintiff was entitled to 60% of $60,000 damages found by jury, rather than 60% of $50,000, despite state's $50,000 damages cap on city liability Thomas v. City of Tulsa, 766 P.2d 339 (Okl 1988).
Court denies review to $4 million damage award for police beatings in motel fight City of Everett v. Bordanaro, 871 F.2d 1151 (1st Cir), cert denied, 110 S.Ct. 75 (1989).
Ninth Circuit Appeals Court holds that no federal policy prohibits a city from paying punitive damages assessed against its employees Cornwell v. City of Riverside, 896 F.2d 398 (9th Cir. 1990).
State officials may be sued for damages in their individual capacities in federal civil rights cases, even if they were acting "in their official capacities" during the complained of conduct, U.S. Supreme Court rules. Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21 (1991).
7th Circuit says county must pay punitive damages for official Kolar v. County of Sangamon, 756 F.2d 564 (7th Cir. 1985).
Federal Tort Claims Act prohibition of "punitive damages" against U.S. government does not bar awards for future medical expenses or for loss of enjoyment of life Molzof v. US, 112 S.Ct. 711 (1992).
Back to list of subjects Back to Legal Publications Menu