ExxonMobil Takes Case to Supreme Court

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ExxonMobil Takes Case to Supreme Court

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- ExxonMobil Corp. has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a $2.5 billion fine against the oil company for the 1989 Valdez disaster, the nation's worst tanker spill, according to a report by Reuters.

Exxon, in a petition filed Monday, argues that the high court should overturn the punitive-damages verdict that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the company to pay for the 11 million-gallon disaster. The current fine is half the amount handed down by a federal court jury in Anchorage in 1994. The 9th Circuit Court reduced it to comply with what it concluded were constitutional limits, Reuters said.

ExxonMobil, the successor company to Exxon Corp., argues in its Supreme Court petition that maritime law does not allow imposition of such a large punitive award.

"The Ninth Circuit's inability to discern or even acknowledge any substantive maritime-law principles limiting the size of this extraordinary punitive award demonstrates the urgency of the need for this court to articulate such limits," Exxon argues.

The company also repeated its earlier argument that the punitive award was improperly calculated as an unacceptably-high multiple of actual compensatory damages. The company has argued punitive damages should be no more than $25 million, based on actual compensation given to commercial fishermen for the loss of their harvests.

The Supreme Court has the right to hear Exxon's appeal or reject it, the report stated. Plaintiffs include more than 30,000 fishermen, Alaska natives, property owners and others who filed individual claims that were consolidated into a class-action case.

The Valdez spill remains a bitter memory in Cordova -- a fishing-dependent Prince William Sound town of 2,200 people. The spill spread oil across more than 1,200 miles of coastline, closed fisheries and killed thousands of marine mammals and hundreds of thousands of sea birds, according to the Reuters report.

Jerry McCune, president of Cordova District Fishermen United, said he is not surprised Exxon appealed even after having the punitive award reduced. "They just don't believe that they owe anything, and they're arrogant," McCune told Reuters.

ExxonMobil spokesman Tony Cudmore commented, "As we have said many times, the Valdez oil spill was a tragic accident, one which the corporation deeply regrets, and one for which the corporation has paid significantly." He also noted that ExxonMobil paid more than $300 million immediately and voluntarily to more than 11,000 Alaskans and businesses affected, and has spent more than $3.5 billion on cleanup payments, compensation and settlements. "We believe that all actual damages have been paid."