Complex Civil Litigation and Federal Courts

Professor Tom Rowe

To second- and third-year students, and LLM candidates--As you'll see in the spring 2004 enrollment materials you're getting, next semester I'll be offering both Complex Civil Litigation (3 credits) and Federal Courts (4 credits). Students often want to know, beyond the course descriptions, what's the difference; this memo tries to give you some more information.

First, three quick points:

  1. If your interests are strongly in transactional rather than litigation practice, you may be able to stop here; both courses are more or less litigation-oriented, although Federal Courts in particular is of broader interest as a course in federalism, separation of powers, and the American judicial system, with many constitutional-law overtones.
  2. The School has been committed to offering Federal Courts (taught by me or someone else) every year, but Complex Civil Litigation is usually offered only in alternate academic years. So to present second-year students who'd quite like to take Complex Civil Lit, this spring may be your only chance.
  3. A minor point, but one that sometimes throws people: Federal Courts will likely show a Friday meeting on the schedule. That's for makeups only, and those should be few. Maybe not zero, but few.

On to thumbnail descriptions of the two courses, which overlap rather little; a paragraph addressed to LLM candidates appears at the end.

Complex Civil Litigation is a survey course in advanced civil procedure. The topic that gets the single largest amount of attention is class actions, but other significant areas include: the gnarlier joinder devices (compulsory joinder, intervention, interpleader) that may have been passed over with merciful brevity in your first-year Civil Procedure course; transfer and consolidation; big-case discovery issues; judicial case management; disposition of complex cases (settlement classes, alternative dispute resolution, representative trials, claims-processing facilities); and possible reforms. That's a lot of nuts and bolts, but the course also deals with interesting cutting-edge issues in what has been a very fast-developing area. Those most likely to benefit from the course are students who may want to practice civil litigation involving cases of the larger sort, on either the plaintiffs' or the defendants' side. Complex Civil Litigation, like Federal Courts, is an exam course with no papers.

Federal Courts is a course on federalism, separation of powers, and the American judicial system. Coverage includes such areas as justiciability; constitutional and statutory definitions of federal-court jurisdiction; some aspects of the law applicable in federal courts including implied rights of action and civil-rights actions and defenses; abstention; and judgments--Supreme Court appellate jurisdiction, interjurisdictional preclusion, and habeas corpus. Those who are interested in clerking for federal judges may find it especially worthwhile, but it should also be of interest to those who expect to do some federal-court litigation and also those who are interested in structural and power issues in our federalist judicial system.

Overlap between Complex Civil Litigation and Federal Courts is very limited. Federal Courts has considerable coverage of justiciability (advisory opinions, political questions, standing, ripeness, mootness) and Complex Civil Litigation at most a little, as it affects ability to use the joinder devices. Federal Courts surveys the main types of federal courts' statutory original and supplemental jurisdiction; in Complex Civil Litigation, the main significance of federal jurisdiction is concerning whether it does or does not make possible the use of joinder devices and the aggregation of large cases. And preclusion law may come into both courses--Federal Courts with a look at "interjurisdictional preclusion" (federal-state res judicata), and Complex Civil Litigation with consideration of the viability of preclusion as a way of dealing with multiple, related litigations. Given all else that these courses cover, that's not a great deal of overlap.

Complex Civil Litigation and Federal Courts are of interest mainly to domestic JD candidates, but foreign LLM students are welcome as well. Federal Courts can be of special interest to students from other nations with federal systems, or from unitary states participating in supranational bodies such as the European Union. Contrasts between different federalist structures can often be illuminating for American and foreign students alike. The American procedural approaches studied in Complex Civil Litigation may be of value to students interested in the handling of large-scale civil proceedings in their own countries. A conversation with the professor is advisable for foreign students who may want to enroll in either class, to make sure that they have the background necessary for these upper-level courses.