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WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to hear a case that will determine whether ExxonMobil Corp. should pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages connected to the Exxon Valdez oil spill that affected more than 1,200 miles of Alaskan coastline when 11 million gallons of oil was spilt in 1989, when the Exxon Valdez supertanker run aground on a reef, The Associated Press reported.
A federal appeals court already halved the $5 billion awarded by a jury in 1994, the report stated.
The justices will consider whether the company should have to pay any punitive damages at all, the AP reported. If the court decides money is due, Exxon will argue the $2.5 billion fine is excessive under shipping laws and prior high court decisions that limited punitive damages, according to the report. The case probably will be heard in the spring, the AP reported.
Exxon already paid $3.4 billion in clean-up costs and other penalties as a result of the spill, the AP reported, citing an Exxon statement.
"This case has never been about compensating people for actual damages," company spokesman Tony Cudmore said in a statement cited by the AP. "Rather, it is about whether further punishment is warranted...We do not believe any punitive damages are warranted in this case."
Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued the damages award is "barely more than three weeks of Exxon's net profits," the report stated. Plaintiffs include approximately 33,000 commercial fishermen, cannery workers, landowners, Native Alaskans, local governments and businesses.
The company has argued it should not be held responsible for mistakes of the ship's captain, Joseph Hazelwood, who had violated clear company rules.
However, plaintiffs argued that Exxon was aware of Hazelwood's condition. "Exxon placed a relapsed alcoholic, who it knew was drinking aboard its ships, in command of an enormous vessel carrying toxic cargo across treacherous and resource-rich waters," the AP cited the plaintiffs as stating.
In other company news, ExxonMobil Corp. is donating $5 million to the Ford's Theatre Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Campaign, a $40 million-dollar capital campaign to support the multi-year, major renovation and expansion of the 144-year old theatre in Washington. ExxonMobil has supported artistic and educational programs at Ford's Theatre since 1978 to help honor and celebrate the legacy of President Lincoln.
The company's $5 million contribution will be used to establish the ExxonMobil Lincoln Visitor Center, where future guests will begin their experience at Ford's Theatre. As visitors enter the 5,000-square-foot center, adjacent to the current theater, they will be welcomed with a brief orientation video before touring the historic site. The center will also house a gift shop, as well as other audience amenities, and will serve as the lobby space for theatrical performances at Ford's Theatre, according to ExxonMobil.
"ExxonMobil is proud to support Ford's Theatre and its mission to celebrate the legacy of President Lincoln," Rex W. Tillerson, chairman and chief executive of Exxon Mobil and chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Campaign said in a written statement. "We are pleased to be a part of the new campus, which will provide a broader perspective of Lincoln's life and leadership, particularly during his time in Washington."
The ExxonMobil Lincoln Visitor Center will be part of the new Ford's Theatre campus along 10th Street, NW in Washington. The campus will include a renovated theatre with a new lobby; a redesigned museum; the Petersen House (where President Lincoln died); and a new Center for Education and Leadership. The museum and new Center for Education and Leadership will feature interactive, self-guided exhibits that paint a picture of politics and society in Washington and the U.S. in the 1860s.
Through this transformation, Ford's Theatre will become a venue where school groups, families and tourists can come to study and be inspired by great lessons in leadership and American history illustrated by Lincoln's presidency, Exxon said. In addition, an innovative Web site and off-site extension programming will allow Ford's Theatre to expand its reach into classrooms across the nation, and provide young people and adult learners alike with the opportunity to experience the life and legacy of Lincoln.
"The new Ford's Theatre campus will be a place where scholars, as well as young people can continue to explore those questions about Lincoln's life and legacy that still affect our lives today," Tillerson commented in his statement.
ExxonMobil Corp. is a leading international energy company whose subsidiaries have operations in most of the world's countries. In the U.S., ExxonMobil has significant exploration and production, refining and marketing and chemicals operations. It is one of the largest oil and gas producers and reserves holders in the U.S., with a portfolio including Alaska, onshore Gulf Coast and deepwater Gulf of Mexico. In addition, there are approximately 13,000 Exxon- and Mobil-branded service stations in the U.S., as well as seven refineries, four of which are integrated petrochemical facilities.