Jester v. Hutt, No. 18-3114 (3d Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Penn boarded Fantasy’s horses. After some of its horses became sick or injured and even died, Fantasy refused to pay boarding invoices totaling $65,707. Fantasy told Penn’s veterinarian, Edelson, that it was considering suing him; they entered into an agreement releasing “any and all persons, firms, or corporations liable or who might be liable . . . [from liability] arising out of or in any way relating to any injuries and damages of any and every kind . . . [in] the care and/or treatment of any [Fantasy] horses stabled at Penn.” Penn sued for breach of contract and defamation, based on emails sent to individuals in the industry blaming Penn for the deaths of Fantasy’s horses, calling the staff “inexperienced,” and accusing Penn of trying to conceal the problems. Fantasy counterclaimed, alleging negligence, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty. The district court rejected the negligence counterclaims, based on the Edelson release. A jury awarded Penn $110,000 for breach of contract, $1 in nominal damages for defamation, and $89,999 in punitive damages. The court reduced the punitive damages to $5,500. The Third Circuit affirmed, except as to punitive damages. If the court finds, on remand, that the $89,999 award is unconstitutionally excessive, it should explain why it is not within the range of reasonable punitive damages for this claim and why a lower award reflects the reprehensibility of the conduct.