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Veep Nominee Palin And The Exxon Valdez Case

Publication Date: 
August 29, 2008
The Blog of Legal Times
Tony Mauro

Professor Jeffrey L. Fisher is quoted in The Blog of Legal Times about vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's position on the Exxon Valdez case in view of the fact that both she and her husband Todd were commercial fishermen at the time of the oil spill:

"They were both eligible to participate," says Stanford Law School professor and Davis Wright Tremaine partner Jeffrey Fisher, who argued on behalf of the plaintiffs before the Supreme Court last term.


Then and now, Todd Palin fished for salmon in Bristol Bay, which is far from Prince William Sound where the devastating spill occurred. But Fisher said that early in the litigation, the "mandatory punitive damages class" was defined to include both those who fished in "oiled fisheries" that were damaged directly, and "unoiled fisheries" like Bristol Bay, where the damage was less direct. Fisher says claimants from Bristol Bay and other distant areas asserted they were harmed when the price of their product was depressed after the spill. But eligible members of the class had to file claims by February, and Fisher said the Palins did not do so.

If they had, Fisher says, they would have been eligible to receive a payment that is less than the roughly $15,000 that directly injured fishers will receive under the reduced punitive damage award that resulted from the Supreme Court ruling in June. In that June 25 decision, the Court said the punitive damage award, originally set by a jury at $5 billion, was excessive under maritime law and knocked it down to $507 million. Last week Exxon Mobil agreed to begin paying out some of the award, though a dispute remains over interest.

Fisher notes that Alaska and Gov. Palin were strongly supportive of the plaintiffs in the litigation. "The justices Sen. McCain likes," Fisher added, were were not as supportive. In the 5-3 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. was in the majority that cut the punitive damages award, and Justice Samuel Alito Jr. recused because he owns Exxon Mobil stock. The others in the majority written by Justice David Souter were Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy.