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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Contextualizing Civil Procedure: Teaching Through a Semester-Long Simulation, With a Twist

The following guest post is by David Oppenheimer (Berkeley) and is sponsored by West Academic.

Civil Procedure is the first-year course that most lacks a familiar context. Our students arrive with some understanding, however faulty, of the role of contracts, the existence of property, the problem of crime, and the phenomenon of personal injury. But Civil Procedure is a great mystery to them, and pleading and motion practice are at the heart of the mystery.

My response is to provide context by organizing the course around a semester-long simulation, with a twist.

The simulation is Oppenheimer, Leiwant, Schonberg, and Wheeler, Patt v. Donner: A Simulated Casefile for Learning Civil Procedure(Foundation Press 2014). (Leiwant, Schonberg, and Wheeler are the former students/RAs who helped me develop the casefile.) The case begins on the first day of class, with a fourteen-minute videotape of a client interview. Paula Patt is an Anthropology graduate student who just arrived in Berkeley. She applied to rent an apartment, and believes she was rejected because she has a five-year old daughter. She has come to the Berkeley Law Clinic for advice.

To watch the interview, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOIZccJlR0U.

Over the course of the semester the students, working in rotating groups with the casefile materials and on-line videos, will: draft a federal housing discrimination complaint; switch sides and move to dismiss the complaint as insufficient; move for a preliminary injunction when another apartment in the building becomes vacant; move to dismiss the absentee landlord/defendant for lack of personal jurisdiction; oppose the motion; move to amend the complaint to add a supplemental claim; move to intervene; move to compel discovery, or for a protective order; and negotiate a settlement. (A motion for summary judgment will be added next year.)

So, what’s the twist?

Each of the exercises is 90% complete when assigned. The students don’t spend time trying to figure out what a pleading or motion looks like, formatting the table of cases, or drafting the preliminary matters. They complete a nearly finished pleading or brief by drafting the key argument, thus applying the cases we’re studying in class to the facts provided in interviews and documents found in the file.

To learn more about the materials, and to download the videos and sample exercise answers, go to: See www.civilprocedurecasefile.com

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 18, 2015 at 09:31 AM | Permalink

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