Stanford Law Professors David Engstrom and Pamela Karlan Named Reporters for American Law Institute Projects

The American Law Institute (ALI) recently named as reporters both David Freeman Engstrom, Stanford’s LSVF Professor in Law and co-director of the Deborah L. Rhode Center on the Legal Profession, and Pamela S. Karlan, the Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law and co-director of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic. ALI approved the appointments on Oct. 21, 2022.

Engstrom will lead the ALI’s Principles of the Law, High-Volume Civil Adjudication, addressing how state courts can best navigate the challenges associated with the adjudication of millions of low-dollar but highly consequential cases, including debt collection, eviction, and child support actions, that shape the lives of Americans each year.

Karlan will co-lead the ALI’s Restatement of the Law, Constitutional Torts project along with John C. Jeffries, Jr. of the University of Virginia School of Law. The Restatement will examine the law of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides an individual the right to sue state government employees and others acting “under color of state law” in federal court for violations of federal law. 

Engstrom to Investigate Issues Raised by Small-Scale State Court Claims

Post-COVID Courts 2

The new ALI project was launched to offer guidance to state courts facing an increasing number of claims in areas such as debt collection, evictions, home foreclosure, and child support. These cases are frequently uncontested, resulting in high numbers of default judgments, and most feature at least one party without a lawyer.

“State court dockets have become dominated by cases that, though smaller-scale and arguably less complex than other types of civil litigation, are decidedly high-stakes for many of the litigants,” Engstrom said in an ALI press release. “These cases are shaping the lives of millions of Americans, particularly women and people of color. The future of the civil justice system, and the legitimacy of the courts at its center, will turn on how—and how well—judges, court administrators, and an array of other policymakers respond to these new realities.”

Engstrom is a far-ranging scholar of the design of litigation and regulatory regimes.  He co-directs the Rhode Center on the Legal Profession, the premier academic center working to shape the future of legal services and access to the legal system. A focus of his work is technology’s role in the civil justice system. He is the editor of the forthcoming Legal Tech and the Future of Civil Justice (Cambridge University Press 2023). Engstrom also co-founded the Filing Fairness Project, which seeks to simplify court filing systems and eliminate access barriers. From 2020 to 2022, he served as a public appointee to the California State Bar’s Closing the Justice Gap Working Group, tasked with proposing reforms to foster innovation in legal services. Engstrom is a member of the American Law Institute, a member of the Administrative Conference of the United States, a fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and a faculty affiliate at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI.

ALI’s Principles projects are primarily addressed to legislatures, administrative agencies, or private actors. They can be addressed to courts when an area is so new that there is little established law. Principles findings often take the form of best practices for either private or public institutions.

Karlan to Examine Evolving Law of Constitutional Torts 

Karlan, with her co-reporter John C. Jeffries, Jr., of the University of Virginia, will examine Section 1983, the dominant mechanism for securing money damages for violations of federal rights, especially constitutional rights. The project also will cover Bivens actions, the analogous cause of action for violations of constitutional rights by a federal officer. Among other topics, the Restatement will cover governmental immunities from suit, local government liability for official policy or custom, and restrictions on § 1983 actions imposed by the Prison Litigation Reform Act and the overlapping law of federal habeas corpus. Whether under § 1983 or Bivens, immunity from suit is the largest topic in the law of constitutional torts.

“In addition to officer suits, one class of defendants, local governments, can be sued directly, but only for acts reflecting official policy or custom,” Karlan said in an ALI press release. “On occasion, there is liability for policy-by-omission, for example, for failures to train government employees who then commit constitutional violations.” This is a complex area of law that “will be a major topic for the Restatement.”

Karlan is the co-author of leading casebooks on constitutional law, constitutional litigation, and the law of democracy, as well as numerous scholarly articles. She is one of the nation’s leading experts on voting and the political process. Karlan has served as a commissioner on the California Fair Political Practices Commission, an assistant counsel and cooperating attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. She is co-director of the Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, where, under faculty supervision, students have represented parties or amici in a number of Section 1983 or Bivens cases before the Court.

ALI’s Restatements of the Law are primarily addressed to courts and aim at clear formulations of common law and its statutory elements, and reflect the law as it presently stands or might appropriately be stated by a court.

About ALI

The American Law Institute is the leading independent organization in the United States producing scholarly work to clarify, modernize, and improve the law. The ALI drafts, discusses, revises, and publishes Restatements of the Law, Model Codes, and Principles of Law that are enormously influential in the courts and legislatures, as well as in legal scholarship and education.

About Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education.  Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business and high technology.  Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, produce outstanding legal scholarship and empirical analysis, and contribute regularly to the nation’s press as legal and policy experts. Stanford Law School has established a new model for legal education that provides rigorous interdisciplinary training, hands-on experience, global perspective and focus on public service, spearheading a movement for change.