Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker - Oral Argument - February 27, 2008

Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker

Media for Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 25, 2008 in Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 27, 2008 in Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

We'll hear argument this morning in Case 07-219, Exxon Shipping Company versus Baker, et al..

Mr. Dellinger.

Walter E. Dellinger, III:

Good morning, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court: When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989, the resulting spill of 11 million gallons of oil was one of the worst environmental tragedies in U.S. maritime history.

The only remaining aspect... the only aspect of the litigation over the Valdez disaster that is before the Court today concerns almost entirely lost revenues by the commercial fishing industry.

Exxon long ago paid $400 million in compensation for that lost revenue.

At issue here is whether an additional warrant to the commercial fishing class of $2.5 billion dollars in punitive damages is permissible under Federal Maritime Law.

The first of the three reasons that the decision below should be reversed is that the Ninth Circuit erred in overturning a maritime law rule that has been settled for 200 years.

Although a shipowner is, of course, liable to fully compensate for all of the damages caused by the wrongful acts of a captain in compensation, it is liable for punitive damages under the long settled rule only if the shipowner directed, ratified, or participated in the--

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Mr. Dellinger, how was that rule settled?

You go in that story and The Amiable Nancy, but no one even raised the question of punitive or exemplary damages in those cases.

So what is the long settled line of decisions of this Court in maritime law that you are relying on?

Walter E. Dellinger, III:

--Justice Ginsburg, The Amiable Nancy is the only maritime case, but this Court in Lake Shore in 1893--

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

That was on land on the railroad.

Walter E. Dellinger, III:

--Yes, but this Court's unanimous opinion by Justice Gray in Lake Shore cites with approval The Amiable Nancy decision and the maritime context.

Three times this Court has considered the question of whether there should be respondeat superior liability in punitive damages for the wrongful action.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

You are talking about maritime law, and relying on The Amiable Nancy.

And my only point is that was not raised, argued, or decided.

So it's rather, I think, an exaggeration to call it a long line of settled decisions in maritime law.

Walter E. Dellinger, III:

Justice Ginsburg, the issue has been so well settled, and Courts of Appeals have so long recognized, that punitive damages are not available in vicarious liability in maritime cases that the issue, understandably, doesn't... doesn't come up.


Antonin Scalia:

And we thought so in Prentice.

Walter E. Dellinger, III:


In Lake Shore versus Prentice, this Court did in 1818 and 1893 and 1999 address this question, once in the maritime context, once in the context of Federal common law, and once in the particular statutory context of--

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Well, the Lake Shore case, if I remember right, did not involve a managerial employee.

It involved a conductor on a train.

Walter E. Dellinger, III:

--That's... that's correct.

But it... but the rule is clear from Lake Shore versus Prentice that it is the same rule as The Amiable Nancy rule.

There is not respondeat superior liability in the absence of some action on the part of the shipowner.

Now, the reason--

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

So the shipowner is, I suppose, the owner of Exxon or the hundreds of thousands of shareholders, right?