Torts II, Pages 573–575

Cheatham v. Pohle

Supreme Court of Indiana, 2003

Facts:

Defendant retained pornographic photos of him and his ex-wife, plaintiff, after their divorce. He made copies of these; added her name, phone number, work address, new husband's name, and attorney's name; and distributed at least sixty around their small community. Plaintiff sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Procedural History:

Jury awarded plaintiff $100,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages, $75,000 of which was paid into Indiana's violent crime victims compensation fund.

Issue:

Were the Takings Clauses violated by the state taking 75% of the punitive damages?

Plaintiff's Argument:

The new statute requiring that 75% of punitive damages be paid to the state violates the Takings Clauses of the Indiana Constitution and the Fifth Amendment.

Reasoning:

The purpose of punitive damages is to deter and punish wrongdoers. Like with criminal punishments, the state has the discretion to set the penalty, and civil litigants have no right to benefit from punitive damages.

Any interest a plaintiff does receive from punitive damages is a creation of state law. The state legislature can remove or limit this right as they choose.

Rule/Holding:

No, the Takings Clauses were not violated by the state taking a portion of punitive damages, as it was its right to do so.

Judgment:

Affirmed.

Takeaway:

Bell: The state can limit how much of a punitive damages award a plaintiff will receive.


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