Gasperini v. Center For Humanities, Inc.

518 U.S. 415 (1996)


Gasperini (P) was a journalist for CBS News and the Christian Science Monitor who took over 5000 slides of conflicts in Central America. P loaned some of his work to The Center for Humanities (D) for them to make an educational videotape. Upon completion of that project, D could not find 300 of the transparencies. At trial, P's expert witness testified that the 'industry standard' within the photographic publishing community valued a lost transparency at $1,500. D conceded liability and based on industry standards, P was awarded $450,000. This despite the fact that P estimated that his earnings from photography totaled just over $10,000 for the period from 1984 through 1993. D moved for a new trial and attacked the verdict as excessive. The Court of Appeals vacated the judgment under New York Law (CPLR Section 5501(c)); it determined that testimony of industry standard alone was insufficient to justify a verdict and the court must determine if an award deviates materially from what would be reasonable compensation. The court ruled that the uniqueness of the slides and P’s earnings levels should also be taken into consideration. The Court ordered a new trial unless P agreed to an award of $100,000. P appealed arguing that the Seventh Amendment applied and that New York law should not have been used; no fact tried by a jury should be reexamined in federal court except under federal common law. Under federal common law, a jury verdict is not overturned unless there is a shock to the conscience. The Supreme Court granted review.