U.S. Supreme Court expected to decide on Exxon Valdez appeal

If justices refuse to hear case, it could end lengthy court battle

Posted: Sunday, October 28, 2007

ANCHORAGE - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday is expected to decide whether it will hear one of the final cases in the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

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If the court refuses, it could end the lengthy court battle resulting from the nearly 11-million gallon spill in Prince William Sound.

Lawyers for commercial fishermen and other parties have asked the court to reject Exxon's appeal of a lower court decision that requires the company to pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages - half of what was ordered by an Anchorage jury.

"I'd like to see this case end. And it should end," said David Oesting of Anchorage, the lead lawyer representing commercial fishermen, subsistence Natives, cannery workers, land owners, hatchery operators, towns and others seeking the multibillion-dollar payoff from Exxon.

Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said Friday that the oil company is "not commenting on the decision until it's made by the court."

Exxon's appeal has drawn support from business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief for Exxon.

Oesting said if the court does decide to hear the case they also want the justices to not only consider Exxon's claim that the $2.5 billion was too high an award, but his clients' assertion that the award is not high enough.

The case stretches back to 1995, when a federal jury in Anchorage awarded $5 billion in punitive damages. Exxon appealed that and for the past 12 years the case has moved sluggishly through the court system.

Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco cut the award to $2.5 billion. Exxon has argued it should be responsible for no more than $25 million in punitive damages, having already paid out more than $3 billion for compensatory payments, the cost of the cleanup, and settlement of state and federal claims.

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