On paper, the legal hurdle for obtaining punitive damages in civil litigation in Minnesota does not look very high. As all Minnesota civil litigators know, one’s original complaint must not include a claim for punitive damages. One must bring a motion to amend the complaint to add one. When bringing that motion, one only needs to make a “prima facie” showing. That is, the Court examines the evidence in support of the claim without considering any evidence submitted in opposition to the claim.
So the punitive damages claimant marshals his evidence, no contrary evidence is to be considered, and the question is whether that evidence, unrebutted, is “clear and convincing evidence” of “deliberate disregard for the rights or safety of others if the defendant has knowledge of facts or intentionally disregards facts that create a high probability of injury to the rights or safety of others.” Sound easy?
The Cenveo vs. Southern Graphics litigation, covered here previously, involved some fairly serious claims. Employees, while working for Plaintiff Cenveo, are alleged to have plotted a mass exodus to defendant SGS, they allegedly rung up significant expenses (a $600+ dinner, for example) with the Cenveo customer (Target Corp.) that they were simultaneously conspiring to take with them to SGS, they allegedly wrote off over $350,000 of debt owed to Cenveo by its customers as they walked out the door to join SGS, one former Cenveo employee alllegedly took confidential and proprietary Cenveo documents with her to SGS having represented that she had not, and SGS has been charged $100,000 for discovery sanctions in the case.
Enough for a prima facie case for punitive damages? No. Not as U.S. Mag. Judge Arthur J. Boylan (D. Minn.) has read the applicable law.
It cannot have helped that Plaintiff flouted local rules regarding a prohibition on reply briefs, the failure to include a red-line of the proposed amended complaint, and, it seems from the Court’s order, submitted a brief with many errors (p. 12 & footnote 6). The Court denied the motion based on a finding that Plaintiff had failed to meet the punitive damages substantive standard and, alternately, based on its failure to adhere to local rules.