Gold – The Right of Redress

Post by Andrew Gold I’m writing to put in a quick word about my new book, The Right of Redress – now published in the Oxford Legal Philosophy Series. (Here is a poster for the book, which includes a discount code.) Corrective justice theories of private law often focus on a wrongdoer’s obligation to fix … Read more

Retroactive Rights of Action

By Samuel Beswick, Assistant Professor, Peter A. Allard School of Law, The University of British Columbia I recently suggested on Balkinization that a storm seems to be brewing concerning the place of non-retroactivity doctrine (also called the doctrine of “prospective overruling”) in federal law. Non-retroactivity doctrine attempts to define the temporal scope of novel judgments … Read more

HLS Private Law Workshop: Eric Claeys, Harms, Benefits, and Rights in Property and Private Law

Post by Patrick Goold

In the most recent HLS Private Law Workshop, Professor Eric Claeys presented a chapter of his forthcoming monograph, Natural Law, Natural Rights, and the Foundations of American Property Law. This monograph presents a natural law theory of American property law. The monograph argues that individuals have pre-political rights to use tangible resources in ways that promote human flourishing. Contemporary property doctrine embodies this logic and, in form and substance, upholds those rights.

The chapter Claeys presented discussed and responded to criticisms of common law property doctrine frequently made by law and economics scholars. Economists, starting with Ronald Coase, tend to view property law as an instrument for settling disputes about incompatible uses of resources (what Claeys labels the “incompatible use framework” of property).  When a rancher’s cattle strays onto a farmer’s wheat fields, or a railroad emits sparks onto a farmer’s hay bales, a Coasian treats the respective parties’ “rights” as the conclusion of, rather than a component of, its analysis.

As Coase acknowledged, this is not how courts have historically resolved such disputes. Rather than resolving the case before them based on transaction-cost analysis, courts tend to ask a series of conceptual questions, including: did the plaintiff have a right to prevent the defendant’s behavior? did the defendant’s actions cause the plaintiffs loss? and, did the plaintiff suffer cognizable harm? Coase and his progeny have viewed such reasoning with skepticism. At the root of this skepticism is the belief that the core concepts, such as “right”, “harm” and “causation,” lack substance and therefore, on their own, cannot tell a judge how to resolve disputes. To use a well-worn example, Coase argued that “causation” is reciprocal; that is, when a railroad’s sparks burn down a nearby farmer’s hay bales, both the railroad and the farmer are “causes” of the loss because both could have taken measures to prevent it.  Accordingly asking whether the defendant’s actions “caused” the plaintiff’s harm is not a cogent way to decide who ought to win in property litigation.

Read more

Harvard Law School’s Private Law Workshop: Hanoch Dagan and Michael Heller, The Choice Theory of Contracts

Post by Samuel Beswick, Frank Knox Memorial Fellow, SJD candidate, Harvard Law School

Let’s put freedom back into “freedom of contract.” That’s the ambition Professors Hanoch Dagan and Michael Heller set out in their forthcoming book, The Choice Theory of Contracts, excerpts of which the authors presented at this week’s HLS Private Law Workshop.

Dagan and Heller contend that contract law’s ultimate value is, and ought to be, enhancing individual autonomy. They say that only a “choice theory” of contracts facilitates such autonomy: only when contract law offers a sufficient array of contract “types” will individuals be free meaningfully to author their own destinies. The explication of this liberal theory entails engaging with, and unseating dogma on, two fundamental questions: what is contract? And what is freedom?

Read more

Apologies as Tort Reform — Yonathan Arbel

Post by Yonathan Arbel

When we wrong others, there is often an expectation—perhaps a moral duty—that we apologize. By apologizing, the wrongdoer asserts ownership of the wrong and acknowledges the wrongness of the act and the moral standing of the victim. It is also said that apologies can help restore the social order disrupted by the wrong.

In recent decades, many scholars have suggested that there should be a place in the law for apologies. And so the idea of ‘apology laws’ – laws that promote and protect the use of apologies – was born. These laws, now found in 36 states, are meant to encourage wrongdoers to apologize without fear of legal repercussions, and they typically apply in private law settings, such as torts and medical malpractice. A paradigmatic example is a doctor who makes a mistake during surgery but, in the absence of a ‘safe harbor’, would be reluctant to apologize for fear that admitting the mistake would foster litigation and count as an admission of liability.  An apology law that makes apologies inadmissible as evidence of fault at trial, as most do, promises to overcome this barrier.

In a new paper, Tort Reform Through the Backdoor: A Critique of Law & Apologies, (Forthcoming S. Cal. L. Rev., 2017), Yotam Kaplan and I are challenging the predominant scholarly disposition favoring laws that create safe harbors for apologies. We argue that in commercial settings—involving insurance companies, large firms, hospitals, etc.—using the law to encourage apologies may undermine tort liability and undercut deterrence. This effect is not necessarily negative—many people believe that the tort system is out of control—but it does mean apology laws are de-facto tort reform. That many states that normally oppose tort reform adopted apology laws was the result of clever marketing and concentrated lobbying efforts by tort reformers who co-opted the legal discourse on apologies to their own ends. Perhaps most notably, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton—neither of whom is a card-carrying tort reformer—advocated actively for apology laws in an article in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Read more

Bagchi, Dagan, and Hesselink at “Contract Law in a Liberal Society” Summer School in June — John Golden

Post by John Golden

From June 29 to July 1, the University of Amsterdam hosted a “summer school” on “Contract Law in a Liberal Society.”  The gathering featured extended presentations by Aditi Bagchi of the Fordham University School of Law, Hanoch Dagan of Tel Aviv University’s Buchmann Faculty of Law, and Martijn Hesselink of the University of Amsterdam, as well as additional short presentations of completed works or works in progress by more junior scholars.  This post describes aspects of the presentations by Bagchi, Dagan, and Hesselink as I perceived them.

Read more

Specific Performance in Action – Yonathan Arbel

Post by Yonathan Arbel

Greg Klass’ recent post (as well as recent essay) raised the issue of efficient breach. Deeply embedded in the debate on efficient breach is the choice of remedies between specific performance and expectation damages. If courts award money damages, then this—in the view of opponents of the efficient breach theory—enables promisors to “buy” their way out of promises. Instead, the argument goes, awarding specific performance would give promisees “what they were promised”.  Contrary to their approach, specific performance is reserved under U.S. law only to (arguably) exceptional circumstances involving unique goods and land.

In my work, I try to show that enforcement matters. Parties do not negotiate or behave in the shadow of the law, I argue, but in the shadow of the sheriff. And conventional theory has tended to downplay and sometimes completely overlook the role of enforcement. Thinking through the lens of enforcement on private law provides new insight on old questions and the question of choice of remedies is no exception.

Looking from this perspective, I conducted a qualitative empirical analysis looking into the motivations of people suing for specific performance and the real-life outcomes of these lawsuits: are judgments implemented? Do people negotiate around them? To what extent do the motivations of litigants differ from their lawyers?

Read more

Hanoch Dagan on “an Autonomy-Based Private Law” — John Golden

Post by John Golden

In a paper posted on SSRN, The Challenges of Private Law: Towards a Research Agenda for an Autonomy-Based Private Law, Hanoch Dagan lays out a vision of private law as a “law of our interpersonal (horizontal) relationships” that strives to “establis[h] ideal frameworks for respectful interaction between self-determining individuals.”  Dagan thereby seeks to escape the “deadlock” between views of private law as (1) “a garden-variety mode of regulation” and (2) a branch of law whose focus on “individual independence” makes it “resistant to demanding interpersonal claims.”  Dagan argues that, in a world “of interdependence and of personal difference,” “tak[ing] seriously law’s commitment to autonomy as self-authorship or self-determination” requires subjecting private law to a “prescription of structural pluralism and [an] injunction of relational justice.”  In accordance with the prescription of pluralism, private law should provide individuals with “meaningful choices.”  Indeed, private law theory should “celebrate [a] multiplicity of contract types and property institutions rather than suppress … or marginalize them.”  In accordance with concerns of relational justice, private law needs provisions for “interpersonal accommodation” to help ensure that individuals “respect each other’s right to self-determination and thus to substantive equality.”

Read more

North American Workshop on Private Law Theory — Eric Claeys

Post by Eric Claeys, George Mason University

Before we get too far into November, some friend of this blog should say a word about the third North American Workshop on Private Law Theory.  (“NAWPLT”). NAWPLT is an annual workshop organized by Henry Smith, John Goldberg, Andrew Gold, Steve Smith and Paul Miller (McGill), and Dennis Klimchuk (Western Ontario).  The NAWPLT organizers usually select eight or nine papers, diversified to cover each of the four major fields of private law: tort, contract, property, and restitution-plus-remedies.  The papers are also diversified to show off a wide range of methodologies—analytical methods, different traditions of normative philosophy, and on occasion conceptually-respectful economic analysis.   I always enjoy going because NAWPLT is refreshing for me.  As an American scholar, most of the private law scholarship I encounter at conferences tends to be reform-oriented or economic in focus.  At NAWPLT, I get reminded that, in some parts of the English-speaking scholarly community, analytical and philosophical methods are taken seriously and applied well to private law.  

Read more

Private Law Consortium, Day 2 part a — Yonathan Arbel

Post by Yonathan A. Arbel

Continuing Janet Freilich‘s post covering the first day of the consortium, here follows my take on the second day, which was also very successful. I will divide my summary to two separate posts, so wait for updates… In this post I cover the contributions of John Goldberg, Stephen Smith, and Robert Caso and Guilia Dore.

Read more

How Should We Understand Private Law Concepts? — Andrew Gold

Post by Andrew Gold Given the recent blog debate about the distinctiveness of private law, I would like to raise a separate but related issue.  Often, when we talk about what private law is, we are concerned with what separates private law from other fields – how do we distinguish private law from public law?  … Read more

Private Law is Happening — John Goldberg

Post by: John Goldberg

Kudos to NPL blogger Daniel Markovits for assembling and hosting last week an excellent two-day conference at Yale Law School as the capstone to his Spring ’15 Private Law Seminar. (It is surely a good sign for the field that Harvard and Yale now both have established programs on private law.) 

Here was the line-up of panelists and readings, which encompassed an appropriately diverse yet overlapping set of topics and methodologies, and gave rise to excellent discussions.

Read more

Private Law Theory, Honor, and Related Norms — Andrew Gold

Post by: Andrew Gold Private law theorists usually adopt morality criteria when assessing the plausibility of a given theory.  (For helpful assessment of these criteria, see Stephen A. Smith, Contract Theory 13-24 (2004)).  That said, private law sometimes incorporates concepts that are hard to square with the standard morality-based pictures of private law.  Nathan Oman … Read more