Monday, April 22, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Supreme Court -- Punitive Damages Allowed Over Three Mile Island


WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court refused today to rule out possible punitive-damages awards for more than 2,000 people contending they were hurt by a 1979 nuclear accident at the Three Mile Island reactor.

The court, without comment, rejected an appeal by corporations that owned, operated and supplied materials or services to the Pennsylvania plant, site of the nation's worst commercial nuclear mishap.

The Three Mile Island appeal had argued that a 1988 federal law precludes any award of punitive damages, aimed at punishing and deterring misconduct by paying above and beyond compensatory damages.

At issue was the scope of 1988 amendments to the Price-Anderson Act, a federal law dealing with liability risks associated with nuclear energy.

The disputed amendments provide anyone who claims to have been injured by radiation from a nuclear reactor to file a "public liability action" in federal court.

The many such lawsuits filed in the wake of the TMI accident have been consolidated, and the first of them go to trial this year.

In the 1979 accident, a combination of mechanical and human failures allowed the reactor core to lose cooling water and partially melt. Some radioactive gases were released.

Jobs, payback to get consideration

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court agreed today to decide whether companies can be sued by former employees who say they were given bad job references to retaliate for their claims of racial prejudice.

The court said it will hear a Maryland man's argument that a federal law banning on-the-job race discrimination protects former employees from retaliation for asserting their rights under the law.

Recipe case fails to tempt justices

WASHINGTON - A South Carolina woman who says she suffered a nervous breakdown after her recipe for a rice dish was printed in a cookbook without her permission lost a Supreme Court appeal today.

The court, without comment, turned down Bobbie June Griggs' argument that she should be allowed to sue the South Carolina utility that sponsored the cookbook.

"I'm not surprised. Everything's political," Griggs said after the court's action.

Griggs, a resident of Charleston, entered her rice-dish recipe in the Third Annual Rice Cookoff sponsored in 1989 by South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.

She wasn't chosen as a finalist, but her recipe was printed along with all the others. Griggs demanded that her recipe be removed from the event cookbook.

Griggs was told it would be removed and later was sent a cookbook that did not contain the recipe. But she said she later found that cookbooks with the recipe were distributed.

She said she could not submit "June's Creation" to other contests that prohibit previously published entries. She said she suffered a nervous breakdown as a result.

Challenge to bikini rule rejected

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court today rejected a challenge to a Florida county's ban on nude dancing, turning away arguments that the ordinance violates erotic dancers' freedom of artistic expression.

Lawyers for owners of Cafe Erotica had argued that St. Johns County has forced dancers into bikinis, "and the message inherent in their erotic performances has been significantly diluted, if not effectively stifled."

Justices will hear case about force

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court today agreed to hear the appeal of an Oklahoma county ordered to pay a woman and her lawyers $872,800 for the excessive force a reserve deputy sheriff used in arresting her.

The court will review rulings that said Bryan County must pay Jill Brown $765,300 in actual damages, $20,000 in punitive damages and $87,500 for lawyer fees. Brown sued the county over a 1991 incident in Grayson County, Texas, just over the Oklahoma border.

The justices must decide whether the county was punished unfairly after complying with Oklahoma law in hiring Reserve Deputy Stacy Burns. Burns had a long record of misdemeanors, but Oklahoma law bars only the hiring of convicted felons to such jobs.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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