This term, the U.S. Supreme Court could take up a trio of cases arising out of the rather unconventional state judicial system in West Virginia.
In two of the cases, the state’s highest court – and its only appellate court – denied petitions to review two nine-figure jury awards that included punitive damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars. In a third, the high court reversed a $50 million jury verdict against a coal mining company, but the deciding vote was cast by a judge whose campaign was largely funded by the company’s CEO.
There is an interesting side note to the story: after review was denied by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals of in the first two cases, the court received a lot of press. Interestingly, the court last week did grant review of another multi-million-dollar jury verdict – this one against DuPont in a class action case alleging health violations at a smelting plant. (More here on that case from The Charleston Gazette).
It is unclear whether that appeal grant had anything to do with the reaction to the previous review denials or resulting certiorari petitions, but attorneys – including Jeffrey V. Mehalic, a Charleston litigator and appellate attorney who writes the West Virginia Business Litigation blog – note the possibility. “I’m not going to read too much into the court accepting DuPont’s appeal,” Mehalic said. “I will tell you that the court has gotten quite a bit of pressure as a result of the not accepting Tawney and the Wheeling-Pittsburg appeals.”
The cases were not among the petitions considered in the Court’s first conference yesterday. The justices are expected to decide whether to take up the cases by December.