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Law, distilled to its essence, can be described as rules of conduct decreed and enforced by government for the benefit of its citizens.
Laws are by no means the only type of rules that regulate conduct. For example, a restaurant may require patrons to wear ties and jackets when dining in its premises, a college professor may demand that students refrain from talking in class, or a religious institution may command that its members abstain from using certain types of contraceptives. In all three cases, a penalty may be imposed for failure to observe the rules: the restaurant may deny entrance to anyone not wearing the proper attire, the professor may expel a student who talks during class, and the church may ostracize any member who challenges the prohibition on contraceptive technology. Nevertheless, these rules do not rise to the level of laws simply because they are not enacted and enforced by the government.
We will trace the law to its various sources, as well as explore an overview of the federal and state court systems to gain a better understanding of our system of justice.
It is a common misconception to think of the law as a set of rules written down in old, dusty books that show little change over time. Such a vision of the law makes it seem stagnant and inflexible. The reality, however, is quite different. The United States Constitution is the primary source of law in the United States, and, though the Constitution might be thought of as a dusty document created many years ago, it has been changed by amendment 27 times and is constantly interpreted by the courts to address present-day situations.
Law in the United States is vibrant, adaptable, and ever changing—although sometimes slowly. Statutes passed by legislative bodies such as the U.S. Congress and the various states' legislatures are an important part of the law, as are decisions handed down by federal and state judges, and the regulations and administrative decisions of state and federal agencies.
All of these taken together make up what we commonly refer to as the law. We will examine each of these important sources of the law separately to gain a better understanding of how they help to shape our law.
1.1 Introduction to the Law - Law, distilled to its essence, can be described as rules of conduct decreed and enforced by government for the benefit of its citizens.
1.2 The Civil Law Tradition - There are two basic legal systems in the world: civil law and common law. Civil law is the dominant legal system, favored by most non-English-speaking countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
1.3 The Common Law Tradition - The common law system traces its roots to England, in particular to the Norman Conquest of 1066 A.D. After conquering the island where England eventually was established, William I attempted to consolidate what were at times conflicting laws throughout the country into a unified common law that would apply throughout the realm.
1.4 Constitutional Law - Generally defined, a constitution is a composition of fundamental principles that are used to govern a body of people. In September of 1787, the Constitutional Convention ratified the U.S. Constitution in order to establish the principles that our country would be governed by. The U.S. Constitution also created three branches of government and gave these branches specific powers.
1.5 Statutory Law - Statutes, or laws, enacted by federal, state, and local legislatures are another source of U.S. law.
1.6 Administrative Law - Administrative law, which governs how government administrative agencies carry out their duties, has grown with the steady increase of governmental regulation since the 1930s, both at the state and federal levels. Administrative agencies are empowered by either the legislative or executive branches of the federal and state governments to carry out governmental processes entrusted to these branches of government.
1.7 The Court System - As we've seen, laws are interpreted and implemented by the courts. There are 52 court systems in the United States: the federal courts, state courts for each of the 50 states, and a court system for Washington D.C.
1.8 The Federal Court System - As is the case in many state systems, the federal court system contains a number of courts of limited original jurisdiction that try specific types of cases.
1.9 State Court System - Individual state court systems can vary somewhat, but generally conform to the following model.
1.10 Alternative Dispute Resolution and Trials - If a business dispute cannot be resolved by the parties, then the parties can settle their dispute through litigation.
2.1 Introduction to Torts and Legal Duty - The law of torts concerns itself with private wrongs or injuries—those between private individuals and entities—with the exception of a breach of contract, for which a court will award damages.
2.2 Intentional Torts Against a Person: Physical and Emotional - The tort of assault consists of intentionally committing an act that causes someone to reasonably fear immediate bodily harm.
2.3 Intentional Torts Against a Person: Invasion of Privacy - Another important tort concerns a person's fundamental right to privacy and offers protection against unreasonable interference with this right. The tort of invasion of privacy is commonly narrowed down into four separate categories:
2.4 Intentional Torts Against a Person: Defamation - Defamation is the act of publishing a false statement about a person, which causes damage to that person. In order to successfully prove a claim of defamation, the party must show that the opposing party published a false statement of fact to a third party.
2.5 Intentional Torts Against a Person: Fraud - Intentional misrepresentation, or fraud, occurs when one person makes a false statement about an important fact in order to induce another to take action, which causes them to suffer some loss.
2.6 Intentional Torts Against Property: Trespass and Conversion - The tort of trespass to land requires an intentional physical act that results in an intrusion into the land of another without the owner's consent. Thus, walking on another's property, throwing a ball that lands on it, or shooting a gun over it are all examples of trespass to land.
2.7 Unintentional Torts Against Property: Negligence - According to the law, we are all liable for the foreseeable consequences of our actions. We must take precautions that a reasonably prudent person would take in order to prevent foreseeable harm to others. If a person fails to take such precautions and someone is injured, the tort of negligence can be claimed.
2.8 Unintentional Torts Against Property: Defenses to Negligence - There are certain circumstances under which a negligent defendant may avoid liability, or have the extent of his liability reduced. Recognized defenses to a negligence action include contributory negligence, comparative negligence, and pure comparative negligence.
2.9 Strict Liability - There are a few instances in which someone can be found guilty of a tort and made to pay damages even though the person had neither intentionally nor negligently breached a duty of care owed another. Such liability is termed strict liability or liability without fault.
2.10 Product Liability - Suits for product liability may be brought under the doctrines of negligence, intentional misrepresentation, and strict liability.
2.11 Product Disparagement - Think of the tort of product disparagement as defamation of a product or service.
2.12 Intentional Interference with a Contractual Relationship - Breaches of contract limit the damages that can be awarded to the worth of the contract.
The following sample questions do not appear on an actual examination. These questions are intended to give test-takers an indication of the format and idea of what to study!
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