In today’s increasingly borderless world, a growing number of juridically significant events — both consensual and accidental — implicate actors from, and interests of, more than one jurisdiction. The occurrence of such events raises the issue of which jurisdiction’s law should control the legal consequences flowing from them. Conflict of laws jurisprudence frames a series of rules (sometimes also called choice of law) which determine which jurisdiction’s laws, among a choice of several possibilities, will govern the legal rights and responsibilities flowing from these events.
The course and casebook — Felix and Whitten’s American Conflicts Law: Cases and Materials (5th ed.) — will focus on three areas of inquiry. The first is so-called “horizontal” choice of law. Where two or more jurisdictions which are juridical co-equals (two or more states, for example, or two or more countries) have a connection with a juridical event, which jurisdiction’s laws apply? The rules governing this question are more complicated than they appear at first blush, and there is a lack of uniformity in the operative conflict of laws rules among coordinate jurisdictions.
The second is so-called “vertical” choice of law. This topic area addresses the interplay between federal law and state law and the circumstances under which each will govern a legally significant event which implicates both federal and state interests. The course will analyze in detail the Supreme Court’s seminal holding in Erie v. Tompkins and Erie’s progeny as part of this inquiry.
The final focus will be a detailed analysis of judgments and their effects in other jurisdictions, and rules relating to personal jurisdiction which allow courts to adjudicate the legal interests of actors who have connections with jurisdictions other than the forum court.
While conflict of laws began as a highly theoretical discipline, the advent of modern technology has expanded exponentially the number of events which have multijurisdictional facets. The discipline is thus of critical importance to understanding the legal consequences of an enormous number of events.