By Jason Wilson
Well, Judge Fullam has issued an order in Rudovsky v. West Publishing denying the defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law (or for new trial) and upheld the award of compensatory damages ($90,ooo per defendant) and ordered a remittitur of the punitive damages award to $110,000 per defendant, certainly a far cry from the $2.5m awarded by the jury.
From the order:
Throughout this litigation, defendants have pursued what may properly bedescribed as a “scorched earth” approach to defense – that there is no possible merit to any of plaintiffs’ complaints, that plaintiffs are money-grubbing law professors with nothing better to do than sue West, which is, after all, a highly respected publishing house, etc., etc.
The jury has disregarded the defense arguments, and awarded each of the plaintiffs $90,000 in actual damages, plus $2.5 million in punitive damages. Not surprisingly, the defendants have filed post-trial motions, contending that judgment should be entered in favor of the defendants or, at the very least, that a new trial should be granted, because the verdict lacks evidentiary support in any respect.
Actually, the facts are not very much in dispute. There is no question about the fact that the defendants did represent to the subscribing public that the offending pocketpart had been authored by plaintiffs, whereas they had had nothing to do with its preparation. As to whether plaintiffs were defamed by the publication, the evidence clearly permitted the jury to find that the pocket parts in question were totally inadequate, so much so that the reputation of the purported authors must have suffered.
Although there were many disagreements about the law expressed in the course of the trial, I am satisfied that the charge actually given to the jury was in fact correct. Indeed, defendants’ arguments in support of their post-trial motions do not actually identify any specific error in the charge, but appear principally to be disagreements with the factual findings of the jury.
More specifically, the jury was properly instructed about the requirement of actual malice before they could return an award of punitive damages, and before they could assume that plaintiffs’ reputations had been damaged; and that the pertinent findings had to be made on the basis of clear and convincing evidence.
I am satisfied that the only significant issue is the amount of the verdict rendered by the jury. With respect to compensatory damages, their award of $90,000 to each plaintiff strikes me as quite generous, but not so excessive as to warrant interference by the court. That is what we have juries for.
With respect to punitive damages, I do agree that the award of a total of $5 million is undoubtedly excessive. The jury may have been too much influenced by the net worth of the defendants, and undoubtedly was influenced to some extent by the defendants’ own evidence at trial, which seemed to show that the defendants have learned nothing from the experience, and would be likely to continue to commit violations of individuals’ rights in the future.
The full-text of the order is available on Pacer.
[Image (CC) by &y]