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The Constitutional Bounding of Adjudication: A Fuller(ian) Explanation for the Supreme Court\u27s Mass Tort Jurisprudence

By Donald G. Gifford


In this Article, I argue that the Supreme Court is implicitly piecing together a constitutionally mandated model of bounded adjudication governing mass torts, using decisions that facially rest on disparate constitutional provisions. This model constitutionally restricts common law courts from adjudicating the rights, liabilities, and interests of persons who are neither present before the court nor capable of being defined with a reasonable degree of specificity. I find evidence for this model in the Court’s separate decisions rejecting tort-based climate change claims, global settlements of massive asbestos litigation, and punitive damages awards justified as extra-compensatory damages. These new forms of tort litigation echoed the public law models of Abram Chayes and Owen Fiss that, a generation ago, described public interest litigation in areas such as civil rights. In rejecting public law tort litigation, the Court constitutionally imposes a more traditional model of adjudication, a model advocated by mid-twentieth century legal philosopher Lon Fuller but regarded as archaic by most contemporary scholars. I then evaluate the Court’s model on the basis of factors including the limits of judicial competence, the need to legitimize the judicial role in a democracy, and the related impact of constitutional separation of powers. I weigh these factors against arguments that unbounded adjudication is necessary both to compensate mass torts victims who otherwise would be denied recovery and to regulate corporate misconduct in the face of regulatory dysfunction. I conclude that a presumptive model of bounded adjudication would restrain unprincipled adjudication without imposing an institutional straightjacket

Topics: torts, constitutional law, jurisprudence, litigation, advocacy, Constitutional Law
Publisher: DigitalCommons@UM Carey Law
Year: 2012
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