HOUSTON (April 12) — Carbon black producer Continental Carbon Co. has filed a petition for a rehearing of an appeals court decision made last month that reaffirmed a $20.7 million against the company.
The Houston-based firm filed the action April 11 in the U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit, in Montgomery, Ala., the same court where a three-judge panel upheld a 2004 district court ruling against Continental Carbon. The jury in the original case backed plaintiff´s allegations that air emissions of carbon black from the company's Phenix City, Ala., facility damaged property in the Columbus, Ga., vicinity.
The city of Columbus, two individuals — Owen Ditchfield and John Tharpe — and Action Marine Inc., a boat dealership owned by Tharpe, were the plaintiffs in the case. Columbus is located directly across the Chattahoochee River from Phenix City.
The company, as it did in its appeal of the district court verdict, questioned the high amount of punitive damages — $17.5 million — awarded by the jury and upheld by the appeals court. Compensatory damages totaled $1.92 million in the verdict, with $1.3 million also awarded for attorney´s fees and expenses.
In a statement, Continental Carbon said it viewed the punitive damages to be "excessive, based on other cases in which the conduct involved was more extreme and the harm more serious, yet, the punitive damage awards were far smaller."
The appeals court may choose to rehear and reconsider its ruling, but if not, Continental Carbon will consider an appeal of the punitive damages to the U.S. Supreme Court, a company spokesman said.
Rhon Jones, a partner with Montgomery-based law firm Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis and Miles P.C. — which represented the plaintiffs — said he´s not surprised Continental Carbon filed for the rehearing, given it has fought over many issues since the outset of the case. But he added he is disappointed for his clients because they´ve waited a long time and haven´t yet seen any relief.