Volume 88, Number 1

Simplified Pleading, Meaningful Days in Court, and Trials on the Merits: Reflections on the Deformation of Federal Procedure

Arthur R. Miller

When the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were promulgated in 1938, they reflected a policy of citizen access for civil disputes and sought to promote their resolution on the merits rather than on the basis of the technicalities that characterized earlier procedural systems.The federal courts applied that philosophy of procedure for many years. However, the last quarter century has seen a dramatic contrary shift in the way the federal courts, especially the U.S. Supreme Court, have interpreted and applied the Federal Rules and other procedural matters. This shift has produced the increasingly early procedural disposition of cases prior to trial. Indeed, civil trials, especially jury trials, are very few and far between today.

The author examines the significant manifestations of this dramatic change, and traces the shift in judicial attitude back to the three pro-summary judgment decisions by the Supreme Court in 1986. Furthermore, he goes on to discuss the judicial gatekeeping that has emerged regarding (1) expert testimony, (2) the constriction o  class action certification, (3) the enforcement of arbitration clauses in an extraordinary array of contracts (many adhesive in character), (4) the Court’s abandonment of notice pleading in favor of plausibility pleading (which, in effect, is a return to fact pleading), (5) the intimations of a potential narrowing of the reach of in personam jurisdiction, and (6) a number of limitations on pretrial discovery that have resulted from Rule amendments during the last twenty-five years.

All of these changes restrict the ability of plaintiffs to reach a determination of their claims’ merits, which has resulted in a narrowing effect on citizen access to a meaningful day in court. Beyond that, these restrictive procedural developments work against the effectiveness of private litigation to enforce various public policies involving such matters as civil rights, antitrust, employment discrimination, and securities regulation.

Concerns about abusive and frivolous litigation, threats of extortionate settlements, and the high cost of today’s large-scale lawsuits motivate these deviations from the original philosophy of the Federal Rules, but these concerns fail to take proper account of other systemic values. The author argues that these assertions are speculative and not empirically justified, are overstated, and simply reflect the self-interest of various groups that seek to terminate claims asserted against them as early as possible to avoid both discovery and a trial. Indeed, they simply may reflect a strong pro-business and pro-government orientation of today’s federal judiciary. The author cautions that some restoration of the earlier underlying philosophy of the Federal Rules is necessary if we are to preserve the procedural principles that should underlie our civil justice system and maintain the viability of private litigation as an adjunct to government regulation for the enforcement of important societal policies and values.

Symposium Articles

The Dynamics of Contract Evolution

Stephen J. Choi, Mitu Gulati & Eric A. Posner

Contract scholarship has given little attention to the production process for contracts. The usual assumption is that the parties will construct the contract ex nihilo, choosing all the terms so that they will maximize the surplus from the contract. In fact, parties draft most contracts by slightly modifying the terms of contracts that they have used in the past, or that other parties have used in related transactions. A small literature on boilerplate recognizes this phenomenon, but little empirical work examines the process. This Article provides an empirical analysis by drawing on a dataset of sovereign bonds. We show that exogenous factors are key determinants in the evolution of these contracts. We find an evolutionary pattern that roughly separates into three stages: stage one when a particular standard form dominates in the absence of external shocks; stage two when there are external shocks and marginal players experimenting with deviations from the standard form; and stage three when a new standard emerges. We find that more marginal law firms are likely to be leaders in innovation at early stages of the innovation cycle but that dominant law firms are leaders at later stages.

Market Conditions and Contract Design: Variations in Debt Contracting

Albert Choi & George Triantis

Scholars have catalogued rigidities in contract design. Some have observed that boilerplate provisions are remarkably resistant to change, even in the face of shocks such as adverse judicial interpretations. Empirical studies of debt contracts and collateral, in contrast, suggest that covenant and collateral terms are customized to the characteristics of the borrower and evolve in response to changes in market conditions, such as expansion and contraction in credit supply. Building on the adverse selection and moral hazard theories of covenants and collateral, we demonstrate that an expansion (contraction) of credit will lead not only to a decrease (increase) in the interest rate but also a reduction (expansion) of covenants and collateral through lessening (worsening) adverse selection and moral hazard problems. We conclude with some empirical implications of this analysis.

Contracts as Technology

Kevin E. Davis

If technology means “useful knowledge about how to produce things at low cost,” then contracts should qualify. Just as mechanical technologies are embodied in blueprints, technologies of contracting are embodied in contractual documents that serve as “blueprints for collaboration.” This Article analyzes innovations in contractual documents using the same kind of framework that is used to analyze other kinds of technological innovation. The analysis begins by laying out an informal model of the demand for and supply of innovative contractual documents. The discussion of demand emphasizes the impact of innovations upon not only each party’s incentives to collaborate efficiently, but also upon reading costs and litigation costs. The analysis of supply considers both the generation and dissemination of innovations and emphasizes the importance of cumulative innovation, learningby- doing, economies of scale and scope, and trustworthiness. Recent literature has raised concerns about the extent to which law firms produce contractual innovations. In fact, a wide range of actors other than law firms supply contractual documents, including end users of contracts, specialized providers of legal documents, legal database firms, trade associations, and academic institutions. This Article discusses the incentives and capabilites of each of these potential sources of innovation. It concludes by discussing potential interventions such as (1) enhancing intellectual property rights, (2) relaxing rules concerning the unauthorized practice of law, and (3) creating or expanding publicly sponsored clearinghouses for contracts.

Tacit Agreement and Relationship-Specific Investment

Clayton P. Gillette

Default rules of contract law permit recovery of consequential damages for breach when the breaching party had “reason to know” of those damages at the time of contracting. It is a common observation that sophisticated parties systematically bargain out of these default rules, since the scope of consequential damages is highly uncertain and largely within the control of the non-breaching party. Nevertheless, some parties retain the default rules, and some contracts involving sophisticated actors contain an explicit provision allowing consequential damages, including lost profits, for breach. In effect, these parties satisfy the test that awards consequential damages only when there has been “tacit agreement” to their recovery. That test, which has been repudiated by commentators and most case law outside of New York, limits recovery of consequential damages more severely than the standard “reason to know” test. In this Article, I examine contracts that include explicit “lost profits” clauses and cases in which courts have determined whether parties either tacitly agreed to or had reason to know of prospective lost profits. I claim that the relevant contracts and cases reveal that consequential damage clauses are used to solve a contracting problem that might otherwise frustrate mutually beneficial exchange. Parties and courts have perceived that a commitment to pay lost profits can diminish the threat of opportunistic behavior that is inherent where one party must make a relationship-specific investment prior to performance by the counterparty. In transactions with those characteristics, the investing party risk  holdup by its counterparty between the period when the initial investment is made and when the second party must act. I suggest that a commitment to pay lost profits in the event of breach constrains the threat of holdup, and that in these circumstances the value of the promise compensates for the efficiency loss otherwise inherent in assigning consequential damages to the party least able to avoid them. While a pledge of lost profits in the event of breach is not the exclusive response to this holdup problem, it is a plausible and perhaps superior means of avoiding it. I conclude that the combination of near-universal opt-out of the default rule for consequential damages and the explicit adoption of a broad consequential damages clause in investment cases indicates that the “tacit agreement” test may be more consistent with the preferences of commercial parties for a contract default rule than the “reason to know” test.

Contract and Innovation: The Limited Role of Generalist Courts in the Evolution of Novel Contractual Forms

Ronald J. Gilson, Charles F. Sabel & Robert E. Scott

In developing a contractual response to changes in the economic environment, parties choose the method by which their innovation will be adapted to the particulars of their context. These choices are driven centrally by the thickness of the relevant market—the number of actors who see themselves as facing similar circumstances— and the uncertainty related to that market. In turn, the parties’ choice of method will shape how generalist courts can best support the parties’ innovation and the novel regimes they envision. In this Article, we argue that contractual innovation does not come to courts incrementally, but instead reaches courts later in the innovation’s evolution and more fully developed than the standard picture contemplates. Highly stylized, the trajectory of innovation in contract we find is this: Private actors respond to exogenous shocks in their economic environments by changing existing structures or procedures to make them efficient under the new circumstances. The innovating parties stabilize their newly emergent practices through a variety of regimes—both bilateral and multilateral—with the goal of establishing the context through which the innovation is implemented. It is only at this point, and when a dispute is presented to them, that courts step in. If contract innovation does indeed reach generalist courts through the mediating institution of these contextualizing regimes, then our argument follows directly: Because a central goal of contract adjudication is to enforce the agreement in the context the parties intended, the courts’ willingness to defer to the context provided by the parties will put the law more directly in the service of innovation.

Innovation and the Organizational Contract: Lessons from Income Trusts

Edward M. Iacobucci

This Article investigates why North American businesses typically do not adopt the trust form, other than as a financing vehicle. It examines an episode in Canada in which the trust form became very popular amongst publicly traded businesses. Until 2006, there were significant tax advantages associated with adopting an “income trust” structure. Regardless of the tax motivations for the form, the income trust offered businesses greater flexibility in choosing their governance rules than that offered by the corporate form. Income trusts often took advantage of this flexibility, deviating from mandatory corporate law rules on a number of dimensions. This Article finds that there were positive market reactions to innovations in governance by income trusts. However, once the law changed to remove the tax advantages of income trusts, the form all but ceased to be adopted—despite relatively low costs of adoption. On balance, this Article suggests that innovative trust structures are not especially valuable from a pure governance perspective, though governance innovations may be valuable if combined with tax advantages.

Set in Stone? Change and Innovation in Consumer Standard-Form Contracts

Florencia Marotta-Wurgler & Robert Taylor

Standard-form contracting is the engine of the mass-market economy, yet we know little about what drives it and what factors are associated with its evolution. Understanding change and innovation of the substance, length, and complexity of fine print in the consumer context can help regulators identify sources of potential intervention as well as help them evaluate the effectiveness of mandatory disclosure regimes, which are commonly used as consumer protection tools. This Article studies the rate, direction, and determinants of change in consumer standard-form contracting. We examine what changed between 2003 and 2010 in the terms of 264 mass-market consumer software license agreements. Thirty-nine percent of contracts materially changed at least one term, and some changed as many as fourteen terms. The average contract became more pro-seller as well as several hundred words longer. The increase in length is not due to the use of simpler language. Contract readability has been constant: The average contract is as readable as an article in a scientific journal. The variance of contract length has grown, as has the variance in overall pro-seller bias, resulting in reduced contract standardization over time. Firms that were younger, larger, or growing, as well as firms with inhouse counsel, were more likely to change existing terms and to introduce new terms to take advantage of technological and market developments. Contracts appear to respond to litigation outcomes: Terms that were increasingly enforced by courts were more frequently used in contracts, and vice-versa. The results indicate that software license agreements are relatively dynamic and shaped by multiple factors over time. We discuss potential consumer protection implications as a result of the increased length and complexity of contracts over time.


Assuming Responsibility for Who You Are: The Right to Choose "Immutable" Identity Characteristics

Anthony R. Enriquez

Golinski v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a district court case challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, explicitly adopted a novel definition of immutability under the Equal Protection Clause. Now held in abeyance pending the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, Golinski’s discussion of immutability remains relevant because it articulated the rationale behind a number of recent lower court decisions in equal protection jurisprudence that reach beyond the context of sexual orientation. Such decisions turn away from talismanic protection of immutable characteristics determined by birth, and toward the right of all persons to choose fundamental aspects of their identity. They disavow “biological immutability,”—the traditional view of immutability which refers to a characteristic one cannot change, “determined solely by the accident of birth”—and instead rely on asylum law’s definition of immutability: not exclusively a characteristic one cannot change, but also a chosen characteristic that one should not be forced to change because it is fundamental to identity. This Note argues that asylum law’s “fundamental immutability” standard belongs in equal protection jurisprudence because it resolves inconsistencies in traditional equal protection jurisprudence caused by a biological immutability standard and because it harmonizes recent lower court opinions discussing race- and gender-related equal protection in an era of increased multiracial, intersex, and transgender visibility.

The Domestic Implementation of International Regulations

Maximillian L. Feldman

In response to the challenges of globalization, U.S. agencies at times reach agreements on regulations with their foreign counterparts and then subsequently implement those regulations domestically. Some have suggested that this model of rulemaking gives agencies determinative incentives to implement the international regulation as negotiated—and thus to ignore public comments in the domestic rulemaking process. In this Note, I use the Basel Accords as case studies to show that agencies do not necessarily implement international agreements as a fait accompli. Nevertheless, I argue that international agreements may illegitimately influence the domestic rulemaking process and that courts must therefore be more vigilant in reviewing these types of regulations.

Scaling Up: Implementing Issue Preclusion in Mass Tort Litigation Through Bellwether Trials

Zachary B. Savage

The civil litigation system aims to resolve disputes in an efficient, centralized, and final manner. In the context of mass tort litigation, one technique courts often use to achieve these goals is what I call “scaling up”: holding individual trials, and then applying results from these trials to similarly situated individuals. Scaling up, however, presents two difficulties. First, the technique risks compromising defendants’ Due Process rights by creating impermissible settlement pressure. Second, scaling up requires the initial court to structure the litigation so that it may serve as a template for follow-on proceedings; where this is not done, attempting to graft the results of one proceeding onto the remaining group of similarly situated individuals may simply lead to more protracted litigation.

Yet these difficulties are not inherent to the technique; in fact, courts can scale up in a way that avoids these problems. In order to mitigate the Due Process problem, courts should not apply the results of individual trials to subsequent trials involving similar claims until a substantial number of trials have been completed, and until it has become clear that any verdicts unfavorable to defendants are not flukes or outliers. And to ensure that scaling up does not simply lead to more protracted litigation, the initial trials should be structured so as to maximize the likelihood that individuals in follow-on litigation can invoke the findings under the issue preclusion doctrine of Parklane Hosiery v. Shore. The American Law Institute has made a proposal with these considerations in mind with respect to issue classes. This Note argues that a similar approach should be taken in the Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) process, where most mass tort litigation occurs today. This approach would be particularly useful if applied to one device that is being used with increasing frequency in the MDL process: the bellwether trial.

Expanding Standing in Patent Declaratory Judgment Actions to Better Air Public Policy Considerations

Nicholas D. Walrath

This Note argues that modern-day patent litigation lacks sufficient consideration of public policy concerns. In order to remedy this, I propose three potential solutions that would broaden standing in patent declaratory judgment actions, thereby allowing more plaintiffs who are likely to raise such arguments to have their day in court. First, I discuss expanding standing within the Supreme Court’s MedImmune framework, which requires courts to apply a broad all-the-circumstances test in determining patent declaratory judgment standing. Within this test, I urge courts to consider (1) the degree to which a potential infringer raises important public policy concerns and (2) the extent to which the potential infringer has a unique economic incentive to challenge the patent-at-issue. Second, I consider altering the framework for standing in patent declaratory judgment actions based on a reassessment of the fundamental justifications for standing doctrine generally. Observing that the traditional justifications for a standing requirement—and the separation of powers justification in particular—do not apply in the context of patent declaratory judgment actions, I suggest that the Supreme Court might craft a new standing framework. Third, I explore the extent to which Congress might statutorily expand standing in such cases. I conclude by noting that the post-grant opposition procedure created by the America Invents Act—the patent reform legislation signed into law in September 2011—is insufficient to assuage unease regarding the lack of public policy arguments in patent litigation. Courts might therefore look to standing in order to address this problem.