Professor Grimmelmann

University of Maryland

Spring 2014

First Assignment

Please read Assignment 1 in the course supplement.


Here is the official description of this course from the curriculum guide:

Property is the study of the nature and functions of property as an institution. The course examines the origins, justifications, and characteristics of private property. The characteristics studied include transferability (both voluntary and involuntary), divisibility (both spatial and temporal as well as functional), and relativity (some claims are superior to others). Property prepares students for the upper-class curriculum by allowing them to see how law functions to allocate resources and to create and distribute wealth.

That’s accurate, but a little dry. More colorfully, a little over half a century ago, Felix Cohen wrote:

Suppose we say, that is property to which the following label can be attached:

To the world:

Keep off X unless you have my permission, which I may grant or withhold.

Signed: Private citizen
Endorsed: The state

We here in law school care about capital-P Property because this way of arranging legal relations turns out to be of remarkable importance in the American legal system. “Property” is one of a small handful of basic substantive legal building blocks, like “Tort,” “Contract,” and “Crime,” and like them it has its own course early in the curriculum. Property has earned that place for a variety of linked reasons.

If you want a sense of how the course fits together, imagine a large two-dimensional grid. Along the top are different kinds of property: real estate, natural resources, cars, jewels, books, money, stock, and even sometimes ideas, to name just a few. Along the left are different facets of what it means that these things are “property”: how they come to be owned in the first place, how they change owners by sale or gift or otherwise, what the owner can and cannot do to keep others from using them, and how to sort out the messes that result when more than one person has a claim to the same thing. Our goal for the semester is to fill in the grid; we will take advantage of some important patterns in property law to make the task easier.


You will need:

The following books are not required and I have not asked the bookstore to stock them. They are, however, potentially useful sources if you seek an outside perspective on the material covered in the course.


The course is divided into twenty-five assignments. They are intended to cover roughly two hours of class time each, so that we will read roughly one per class session. Unless I tell you otherwise, please read one assignment each time we meet. I may make slight adjustments to this pace as we proceed; I will announce any changes in class and post them here. Our pace will be relentless; do not let yourself fall behind.

Each assignment is listed in the course supplement. Following a short introduction to the topic, you will find a table listing the readings, along with their locations in the casebook, Understanding, or the supplement. The readings within each class are listed in the order I anticipate covering them in class, and are grouped into sets of related materials.

In general, I will ask you to read only the cases from the casebook; unless specifically listed in an assignment, the notes are optional. In class, you are on call for anything in the cases, as well as for the usual hypotheticals based on them. This will be our principal way of gaining insight into the structure of property law. I will lecture on any black-letter doctrine beyond the assigned cases that I think it is important for you to know. There will be a few reading assignments in Understanding, but for the most part you are welcome to refer to it when you find it helpful, and to ignore it when you do not.

Class Meetings

We meet Mondays and Thursdays, from 9:50 AM to 11:50 AM in Room 107. We will take a ten-minute break somewhere towards the middle of each class session. Please note that we will not meet on January 13, to accomoate the Supreme Court trip for Professor Percival’s course, and we will not meet on January 20 because of the Martin Luther King Jr. day holiday. We will, however, meet on Wednesday, January 29, from 9:50 AM to 11:50 Am in Room 107.

Here is what I expect from you in class:


“We don’t check the statements of the ‘young gentlemen’ around here. We simply cashier them if it ever turns out that they have not told the truth.”

–Robert Heinlein

We are members of an academic community built on respect, trust, and honesty. I will take you at your word; in return, I expect you to be truthful and candid in your dealings with me and your classmates.

Your conduct in this course is subject to the Student Honor Code. I encourage to collaborate in preparing for class and in studying, but in the classroom and on the exam your work must be exclusively your own.

Final Examination

Your grade will be determined principally on the basis of a final examination, to be held on a data and time to be determined by the registrar. It will be an in-class, closed-book, essay examination, and subject to a strictly enforced word limit. I will discuss the format in class later in the semester, but as of now I anticipate:

I may adjust exmination grades grade up or down by one-third of a grade based on class participation. I consider good class participation to be anything that helps your fellow students learn, and poor participation to be anything that obstructs their learning.

Under no circumstances may you discuss the contents of the examination with any other person until after the end of the examination period. You may not ask any other person for help during the examination; your work must be entirely your own. The examination is subject to the Honor Code.

All my previous examinations are available from my courses webpage. Select the appropriate course and scroll to the bottom for the examination and a memorandum discussing it.

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


Office: Room 231
Phone: 410-706-7260
Email: jgrimmelmann at
Office Hours: Thursdays, 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM

My office hours are the times I reserve for student meetings, not the only times I am available. Appointments are recommended but not required. If my office hours are inconvenient for you, email me to set up another time or just drop by. If the door to my office is open, please feel free to come in.

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

This syllabus is at As the semester progresses, I will post updates to it here.

Final Exam