Friday, February 23, 2007

On punitive damages and statute of limitations

Initial questions in so many cases are whether the complaint was or can be timely filed and whether there can be a claim for punitive damages.

In Wallace v. Cato, the Supreme Court held that an inmate's claim for false arrest accrued at the time of his arrest, and not when the charges were dropped and he was released, notwithstanding the rule from Heck v. Humphrey, that you cannot sue related to an unlawful conviction or imprisonment until your conviction is overturned or dismissed.

In Philip Morris USA v. Williams, the Supreme Court in a split decision rejected the punitive damages award where it was based in part on acts toward other people besides those involved in the case.

Both of these opinions sort of sound right, and sort of sound wrong. The limitations case could mean the limitations period expires before the statute accrues. The punitive damages ruling means that only part of what makes bad conduct bad can be considered in assessing punitive damages. Those aspects seem kind of unusual.

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