While others chase fictional creatures, some J.D.s chase questions with more tangible implications: does placing an augmented reality object on someone’s land or right of way interfere with their property rights? And if someone gets injured wandering around, is Nintendo/Niantic’s Pokemon Go to blame for creating an attractive nuisance? [Keith Lee, Associates Mind]
I’ve got a new post at Cato at Liberty noting that Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, in a concurrence this spring, appear to be inviting a constitutional challenge to states’ administration of escheat (unclaimed property) law on due process grounds. [More on Taylor et al. v. Yee from Daniel Fisher at Forbes] While the immediate questions posed would likely be whether states are doing too little to notify owners and using too short a period of idleness (three years is becoming common), the fact patterns might conceivably implicate some of the other problems noted by businesses on the receiving end of these laws, which we discussed back in 2013 (more): creative redefinitions of unclaimed property and outside “auditors” incentivized by contingency fees to overreach in assessments.
Reflecting widespread business discontent, the U.S. Chamber has addressed the issue in a series of papers and its publications have covered problems in states like Illinois, as well as in California as well as profiling the firms that specialize in these collections, which in some cases have filed qui tam (bounty-hunting) suits for a share of the proceeds.
On Delaware in particular see the Wall Street Journal (more), Forbes, and Delaware State News. And the Wilmington News-Journal has published an extensive investigation of the escheat contractors’ ties to the Delaware political class.
- Federal Circuit court of appeals says government can’t deny trademark as “disparaging” just because it frowns on its expressive content, implications are favorable for Washington Redskins in their legal case [Eugene Volokh, Paul Alan Levy, In Re Simon Shiao Tam opinion, case won by past Overlawyered guestblogger Ron Coleman]
- Mentally ill man walks into San Diego county recorder’s office, submits properly filled-out deed transferring major sports stadium to his name, chaos ensues [San Diego Union Tribune]
- Lawsuit against prolific California class action firm includes details on how it allegedly recruits plaintiffs, shapes testimony [Daniel Fisher]
- New Jersey: “Man Sues Because Alimony Checks Were Mean To Him” [Elie Mystal/Above the Law, ABA Journal]
- Blustery Texan Joe Jamail, “greatest lawyer who ever lived” or not, was no stranger to Overlawyered coverage [Houston Chronicle, Texas Monthly (“We only overpaid by a factor of five, and that felt like a win”), Daniel Fisher (city should have cut down beloved oak tree in road median because “it isn’t open season on drunks”)] Jamail’s best-known case gave me chance to write what still might be my all-time favorite headline, for a Richard Epstein article in what is now Cato’s (and was then AEI’s) Regulation magazine: “The Pirates of Pennzoil.”
- Hotel security camera footage may help decide whether Eloise tainted-sandwich tale will end up shelved as fiction [New York Post]
- Your War on Drugs: shopping at garden store, throwing loose tea in trash after brewing combine with police goofs to generate probable cause for SWAT raid on Kansas family’s home [Radley Balko] More: Orin Kerr.
“Kentucky man shoots down drone hovering over his backyard” [Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica]
“Thus passed another tense moment in what local officials say has become the town of Chevy Chase’s lengthiest, costliest, and most litigious neighborhood spat in recent memory. What began as a contested building permit six years ago has spiraled into a clash of wills, spawning five lawsuits, two misdemeanor convictions, arrests, anger-management classes, and a [no-contact] court order.” [Terrence McCoy, Washington Post] Last month we noted what one resident called the “farcically overregulated” state of land use controls in the affluent Maryland community, which is located just over the border from Northwest D.C.
The immensely influential scholar and winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize for Economics was 102 years of age and a productive scholar to the end. An excellent short introduction to Coase’s work is found in the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, edited by David Henderson.
Coase’s famous, seminal article The Problem of Social Cost, while the most widely cited in the law and economics canon, is also persistently misunderstood and misrepresented by both friends and foes, as Robert Ellickson shows devastatingly in this essay (h/t Jonathan Adler). Many, even most popular attempts to formulate the “Coase Theorem” veer far from what Coase intended and sometimes into the reverse, above all when they idealize the power of negotiation to overcome the problems of externalities in a highly fictional world that assumes away transactions costs.
As Coase himself pointed out: “The world of zero transactions costs has often been described as a Coasian world. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the world of modern economic theory, one which I was hoping to persuade economists to leave.” Precisely because across a wide range of circumstances the transactions costs of negotiation are too high to permit reallocations of rights between parties, some initial assignments of liability or property rights do impair real output compared with others.
The University of Chicago’s well-meaning notice, I fear, is among those that misstate the Coase Theorem. “Coase believed the incentives of private parties to resolve disputes in their own best interests, even if there needs to be adjudication by courts, should result in an efficient, mutually beneficial solution that is always preferable to government intervention.” (No, that’s not at all what he wrote, even if one succeeds in disentangling the court adjudication from the “government intervention.”) Likewise Bloomberg: “Holding the [polluting] company liable and ordering it to pay money to an affected property holder is less likely to yield an optimal result than having the parties negotiate, he wrote.” (No, that’s not it at all either. At most, his theory implies that the optimal liability rule is fact-contingent and should not invariably be assumed to be the one that makes the smokestack owner pay)
I also have a notion that Coase’s other greatest paper, “The Nature of the Firm” made a huge difference in the real business world in ways that have not been fully reckoned. In that era and on until some time after World War Two, it was widely imagined that the telos of a firm was just to grow and grow without limit, which meant one saw elaborate attempts at vertical integration such as Henry Ford trying to grow rubber trees for tire supply, and antitrust authorities could imagine themselves the only obstacle to the eventual agglomeration of the whole economy into a small number of firms. By the time Coase’s insights had been absorbed, executives had come to see the logic of outsourcing, no one expected the hundred largest firms to account for a higher share of employment or sales or profits each year than last, and antitrust mania went into remission, at least temporarily.
More from Stephen Bainbridge, Lynne Kiesling, Don Boudreaux, David Henderson (a Coase contra Friedman anecdote), Kevin Bryan, David Friedman, Coase interview with Tom Hazlett excerpt via Geoffrey Manne, and Jonathan Adler with much more on what Coase actually thought about the correction of putative externalities. Don’t miss Richard Epstein’s reminiscences, either. [and cross-posted with some additional links at Cato at Liberty]
- Georgia: “Twiggs County Landgrabber Loses, Must Pay $100K in Fees” [Lowering the Bar]
- “Major California Rule Change For Depositions Takes Place In 2013” [Cal Biz Lit] Discovery cost control explored at IAALS conference [Prawfs]
- Gift idea! “Lego version of the Eighth Circle of Hell (where false counselors and perjurers suffered)” [John Steele, Legal Ethics Forum; Flavorwire]
- “Don’t Worry About the Voting Rights Act: If the Supreme Court strikes down part of it, black and Hispanic voters will be just fine.” [Eric Posner and Nicholas Stephanopoulos, Slate, via @andrewmgrossman]
- “Why did Congress hold hearings this week promoting crackpot [anti-vaccination] views? [Phil Plait, Slate]
- “Debunking a Progressive Constitutional Myth; or, How Corporations Became People, Too” [John Fabian Witt, Balkinization]
- “Federal ‘protection’ of American poker players turning into confiscation” [Point of Law]
If the town’s dune project saved their house but also spoiled their view, are the oceanfront owners owed compensation? [Asbury Park Press]
In Clyde Hill, Wash., a retired Seattle Mariners baseball player has won a ruling from the town that his neighbors must remove two trees that block what would otherwise be an “amazing view of Seattle’s skyline” from his property. “An appraiser hired by John and Kelly Olerud said their $4 million home would be worth $255,000 more if the rare Chinese pine and the Colorado spruce across the street were cut down and replaced with smaller plants. The Chinese pine’s value is estimated at more than $18,000.” [Seattle Times, Ilya Somin] In other tree removal news, an Ontario mother “is fighting to have oak trees removed near her child’s school, fearing that acorns could pose a deadly threat to students with severe allergies.” Local officials say it is unlikely the acorns would prove allergenic to a child unless eaten, which rarely happens given their extreme bitterness. The mother also says acorns “can also be used to bully and torment children.” [Toronto Star via Lenore Skenazy]