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Petitions of the week

Punitive damages and rejected pleas

This week we highlight petitions that ask the Supreme Court to consider, among other things, whether an award of punitive damages that doubles the compensatory damages can comport with due process and how a defendant can prove ineffective assistance of counsel in rejecting a plea offer.

After a jury trial in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, Epic Systems won an award of $140 million in compensatory damages in a trade-secrets dispute with Tata Consulting Services. The jury also awarded Epic $700 million in punitive damages. Applying a Wisconsin law that limits punitive damages to twice the amount of compensatory damages, the district court capped Epic’s award at $280 million. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled that an award of punitive damages that exceeded a one-to-one ratio violated due process because the compensatory damages were already large and the underlying claim involved only economic loss. In its petition, Epic argues that the $280 million award comported with due process because the Wisconsin statute gives clear notice to defendants about the possible size of punitive damages. The case is Epic Systems Corp. v. Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.

Anaya v. Lumpkin involves burdens of proof for defendants claiming that they rejected a plea deal based on incorrect advice of counsel. David Anaya was indicted in Texas on charges of murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, for which he claimed self-defense. Anaya rejected a plea offer after his lawyer advised him that, under Texas law, his failure to retreat from the situation “did not matter or make a difference” for his self-defense claim. However, his lawyer was incorrect because Anaya’s status as a felon in possession of a weapon meant that his failure to retreat was relevant. At trial, the government focused on Anaya’s failure to leave the situation even though he was in a car at the time he shot the victim. He received sentences akin to a life sentence. Anaya’s petition before the Supreme Court involves his claim that he received ineffective assistance of counsel in rejecting the plea offer. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit recognized that Anaya received deficient performance but ruled against Anaya because the government could have withdrawn the plea offer. In his petition, Anaya argues that the 5th Circuit’s ruling conflicts with Supreme Court cases on ineffective assistance leading to rejected plea deals.

Last week, the Supreme Court granted cert in a major Second Amendment challenge to a New York law that requires anyone who wants to carry a gun in the state to show a good reason for doing so (New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Corlett). In Russell v. New Jersey, Reb Russell challenges a similar law from New Jersey. The justices may simply hold this case pending the New York decision.

These and other petitions of the week are below:

Russell v. New Jersey
Issues: (1) Whether the Second Amendment protects the right to carry arms outside of the home for self-defense; and (2) whether the government may deny law-abiding citizens their exercise of the right to carry a handgun outside of their homes by conditioning the exercise of the right on showings of need.

Epic Systems Corp. v. Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.
Issue: Whether a state statute that expressly caps punitive damages at two times compensatory damages satisfies the notice requirement of the due process clause such that a punitive damages award that complies with the statute is constitutionally sound under the due process clause.

Anaya v. Lumpkin
Issue: Whether the Supreme Court’s decisions clearly establish that a defendant can show he was prejudiced by his counsel’s deficient performance causing him to reject a plea offer when the defendant contends without contradiction by the state that the record reveals no particular facts or intervening circumstances suggesting that the state would have withdrawn, or the trial court would have rejected, the plea.

United States v. Taylor
Issue: Whether 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(3)(A)’s definition of “crime of violence” excludes attempted Hobbs Act robbery, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a).

Eni USA Gas Marketing LLC v. Gulf LNG Energy, LLC
Issue: Whether the Federal Arbitration Act permits a court to refuse to enforce an arbitration agreement delegating all questions, including questions of arbitrability, to an arbitrator when a party contends that the claim sought to be arbitrated represents a “collateral attack” on a prior arbitration award.

Recommended Citation: Andrew Hamm, Punitive damages and rejected pleas, SCOTUSblog (May. 7, 2021, 11:32 AM),