The City and the Private Right of Action
64 Pages Posted: 4 May 2011 Last revised: 20 Jun 2012
Date Written: May 2, 2011
Cities in most states enjoy broad “home rule” authority – that is, the presumptive power to pass ordinances regulating a wide range of subjects. In many of these states, however, home rule comes with a catch: cities are prevented from passing ordinances that regulate or interfere with “private law.” This article argues that the “private law exception,” as this doctrine is known, is an anachronistic relic of early twentieth century legal thought that ought to be retired outright. This article explains how a subject-based view of the “private law exception,” which prevents cities from passing ordinances affecting subjects like contracts, property, and torts, is largely unenforced today. The more relevant and potent form of the “private law exception,” by contrast, prohibits cities from enacting ordinances that create private causes of action, thereby requiring local ordinances to be enforced by public means only. As this article will show, the potential justifications for the contemporary “private law exception” – preserving uniformity and protecting the interests of the state courts – are not sufficiently compelling to outweigh the costs to local policy experimentation that the exception imposes.
*By permission of the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University, from the Stanford Law Review at 64 STAN. L. REV. 1109 (2012).
Keywords: state and local government, private right of action, cities, counties, municipal law, private law
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