Exxon fights interest payments to Exxon Valdez plaintiffs

Chris Rizo Jul. 16, 2008, 11:00am

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-Exxon Mobil Corp. says it should not have to pay interest on the $507.5 million judgment the U.S. Supreme Court ordered it to pay for the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

In papers filed Tuesday with the U.S. Supreme Court, the Irving, Texas-based company argues it should not have to pay interest on the award, which would push the amount it owes plaintiffs in the case to nearly $1 billion.

In a nine-page brief to the justices, Exxon said Tuesday that there is "no good reason" for the high court to add interest.

"Exxon does not agree that there is any sound basis to award plaintiffs what they seek -- approximately $488 million over and above the $507.5 million that this Court determined was the legally proper amount to punish and deter," Exxon's filing says.

The Exxon papers were filed in response to a brief filed by an attorney for the plaintiffs that said his clients are owed about $488 million in accrued interest since an Anchorage jury awarded them $5 billion in 1994 for the 11 million gallons of crude oil that leaked into the waters of Prince William Sound in March 1989.

A divided Supreme Court last month reduced the $2.5 billion punitive damages award in the long-running lawsuit to no more than $507.5 million, ruling 5-3 that the original award was excessive.

In its ruling, the majority held that the punitive damages should be equal to the compensatory damages.

Judges have discretion in whether to award interest payments. In the federal courts, rules say that interest payments are calculated by a certain Federal Reserve rate available at the time of the award. In the Exxon case, that rate was 5.9 percent.

The 32,677 plaintiffs in the case have been waiting for their award since 1994, when an Anchorage jury returned a $5 billion punitive-damages verdict against Exxon Mobil Corp.

In 2006, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reduced the award to $2.5 billion. Exxon then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case is Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 07-219.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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