Conflict of Laws

Professor Grimmelmann

University of Maryland

Spring 2015

First Assignment

For our first class on January 12, please read pages 519–51 in the casebook and come prepared to discuss the cases in detail.


This course presents the law relating to transactions and lawsuits with elements in multiple states. Major topics include the choice of which state or nation’s law to apply, the jurisdiction of courts, and the enforcement of foreign judgments. The course will discuss these issues in the context of torts, contracts, property, family law, and procedure.

In a sense, this is a course in applied jurisprudence. On the one hand, it is intensely practical. Knowing what law applies is a basic part of legal practice in any field. The course pays extensive and detailed attention to the tactical considerations lawyers weigh when advising a client where to conduct business or file suit. But on the other hand, the process of sorting out what law applies rapidly raises fundamental questions about law, including where law comes from, how courts and parties know what “the law” is, what it means for a court to have “jurisdiction” or enter a “judgment,” whether law is a system of formal rules or a set of policy-driven standards, and who has the final word in a world of numerous and overlapping jurisdictions.


The casebook for the course is Kay, Kramer, and Roosevelt, Conflict of Laws: Cases–Comments–Questions (9th ed. 2013) (the “casebook”). Most of the casebooks for this subject are deadly serious–and deadly dull. This book recognizes that conflict of laws is a black comedy in which every attempt to solve the subject’s enduring problems only seems to multiply them.

Unfortunately, the book is expensive. If you anticipate that this will be a hardship for you, get in touch with me to discuss. One viable option is to use the 8th edition instead of the 9th; it’s available cheaply used. The differences between the two editions are not large; the biggest obstacle is that you will need to spend a few hours identifying places where they diverge and consult a classmate or a library reserve copy where they do.

There are no other required books, but I am happy to provide recommendations for further reading:

Class Meetings

We meet Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:25 to 11:50, in Room 402. Class will be primarily devoted to intensive discussion of the assigned cases. This is a subject in which the “rules” are few in number and easy to state but their application is complicated and controversial.

Here is what I expect from you in class:


There will be a three-hour final examination on a date to be determined by the Registrar. Questions will be a mix of short answers (one sentence to one paragraph) and issue-spotting essays. The examination will be closed-book and subject to a strict word limit. I will grade the final examinations blind to determine preliminary grades. I may then adjust preliminary grades up or down by a third of a letter grade – or, in extraordinary circumstances, two-thirds of a letter grade – baed on class participation. Good participation is anything that helps your classmates learn; bad participation is anything that detracts from their education.

I highly recommend John Langbein’s advice on Writing Law Examinations.


Office: Room 231
Phone: 410-706-7260
Email: jgrimmelmann at

Email is the best way to reach me and will generally lead to the fastest response.

My spring 2015 office hours will be Tuesdays 1:00 to 3:00 PM, or by appointment.


We start with a warm-up unit on the recognition of judgments from other states. The basic rule of full faith and credit is simple, but it provides a vivid introduction to the central problem of the course: jurisdictions have different laws, different zones of territorial control, and different judicial systems.

We then devote nearly two months to the heart of the subject: choice of law. First, we review the traditional territorial approach, then we consider modern attempts to replace it with something that takes better account of states’ policies. Both approaches have been subjected to withering criticism, and we will delve deep into the caselaw to understand the issues involved. This section concludes with a short unit on the constitutional limits to states’ choice-of-law rules.

Next, we cover family law issues–marriage, divorce, child custody, and child support–and conflict-of-laws issues on the international stage. As time permits, we will revisit some familiar first-year topics (e.g. personal jurisdiction and the Erie doctrine) through a conflict of laws lens.

The following schedule of assignments was last updated January 5. Dates in the future are my best estimates; dates in the past are what we actually did. All readings are from the casebook unless otherwise indicated.

Recognition of Judgments (2 classes)

January 12: Full Faith and Credit

January 14: Exceptions

Choice of Law: The “Traditional” Approach (5 classes)


January 26: Torts

January 28: Contracts and Property

February 3: Domicile and Characterization

February 4: Substance and Procedure, Renvoi

February 9: Public Policy, Proving Foreign Law

Choice of Law: Modern Approaches (7 classes)

February 11: Party Autonomy

February 16: Interest Analysis I: False Conflicts

February 18: Interest Analysis II: True Conflicts

February 23: Comparative Impairment, Principles of Preference

February 25: Second Restatement

March 2: Better Law, Depecage, Renvoi revisited

March 4: Rules and Standards, Complex Litigation

Constitutional Limits (3 classes)

March 9: Due Process, Full Faith and Credit

March 11: Convergence

March 23: The Obligation and Right to Provide a Forum, Interstate Discrimination

Legislative and Judicial Jurisdiction (1 class)

March 25: Territorial Limits on Jurisdiction

Federalism (2 classes)

March 30: State Law in Federal Courts

April 1: Federal Law in State Courts

Family Law (2 classes)

April 6: Divorce

April 8: Same-Sex Marriage and Divorce

International Conflicts (3 classes)

April 13: United States Law in United States Courts

April 15: Foreign Law in United States Courts

April 20: Choice of Law in Foreign Courts

Final Examination