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Howell v. Boyle

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: 03-14-2013
Case #: S059120
Landau J. for the Court; Balmer, C.J.; Kistler, J.; and Linder, J.; De Muniz, J.; Durham, J.; and Walters, J., dissented
Full Text Opinion: http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/docs/S059120.pdf

Remedies: Under the "remedy clause," Article 1 Section 10 of the Oregon Constitution, the legislature can limit the amount a plaintiff can recover in tort. Only a limitation that leaves plaintiff "wholly without" a remedy, or one that is not "substantial" is prohibited by the clause.

Boyle and the City of Beaverton appealed the federal district court's denial to reduce an award to the statutory cap of $200,000 under the Oregon Tort Claims Act (the "Act"). Jean Howell (Howell) was injured when Christopher Boyle (Boyle), a Beaverton police officer, hit Howell with his car. At trial, a jury found Howell 50 percent at fault and reduced the awarded damages by that amount. Boyle attempted to further reduce damages to the statutory cap of $200,000 under the Act. The trial court denied Boyle's motion as a violation of Article I, section 10, of the Oregon Constitution. Boyle appealed to the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit certified two questions to the Oregon Supreme Court. The Court determined that the dispositive question was whether $200,000 was an unconstitutional remedy. The Court found that if Howell would have had an absolute common law right, at the time the Oregon Constitution was adopted, to a remedy for her injury, then any limitation imposed by the legislature on that remedy is constitutional if it does not “wholly deprive” her of any remedy. The Court held that the statutory cap of $200,000 did not leave Howell wholly without a remedy, and that the remedy was "substantial". Therefore, the Act's set cap of $200,000 met the constitutional standard. Certified question answered.