Spillover Across Remedies

80 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2013 Last revised: 28 Feb 2015

See all articles by Michael Coenen

Michael Coenen

Seton Hall University Law School

Date Written: April 1, 2014


Remedies influence rights, and rights apply across remedies. Combined together, these two phenomena produce the problem of spillover across remedies. The spillover problem occurs when considerations specific to one remedy affect the definition of a substantive rule that governs in other remedial settings. For example, the severe remedial consequences of suppressing incriminating evidence might generate substantive Fourth Amendment precedents that make other Fourth Amendment remedies (such as damage awards, injunctions, or ex ante denials of search warrants) more difficult to obtain. Or, the rule of lenity might yield a narrowed reading of a statutory rule in a criminal case, which then carries binding effect on subsequent attempts to secure civil relief under the same statutory provision. In these and other contexts, the cross-remedial scope of substantive rules can give rise to significant doctrinal distortions, with one remedy’s influence on a substantive norm dictating the outcome of cases that would otherwise implicate different remedial considerations.

This Article documents several examples of cross-remedial spillover and considers several possible responses to it. Its central conclusion is that courts can best manage the spillover problem by varying the applicability of substantive rules across different remedial domains. Such disaggregation strategies already exist to some extent in the law, implemented most often through the use of discrete, transsubstantive exceptions to remedial requirements (consider, for instance, the qualified immunity defense to damages liability under § 1983, or the harmless error exception to the reversal remedy on direct appeals). Nonetheless, as this Article demonstrates, courts can more effectively disaggregate substantive norms — and thus more effectively mitigate spillover across remedies — by utilizing a significantly more nuanced and substance-specific set of remedial exceptions. In effect, such an approach would yield hybridized rules of "right-remedy" law, with precedential effects extending no further than particularized combinations of substantive and remedial domains. Although that outcome might give some readers pause, it is in fact a sensible and feasible objective for courts to pursue.

Suggested Citation

Coenen, Michael, Spillover Across Remedies (April 1, 2014). 98 Minnesota Law Review 1211, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2310020

Michael Coenen (Contact Author)

Seton Hall University Law School ( email )

1109 Raymond Blvd.
Newark, NJ 07102
United States

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