Abuse of Rights: The Continental Drug and the Common Law

100 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2014

See all articles by Anna di Robilant

Anna di Robilant

Boston University - School of Law

Date Written: June 20, 2014


This Article deploys a comparative approach to question a widely shared understanding of the impact and significance of abuse of rights. First, it challenges the idea that abuse of rights is a peculiarly civilian "invention," absent in the common law. Drawing on an influential strand of functionalist comparative law, the Article identifies the "functional equivalents of the doctrine in the variety of malice rules and reasonableness tests deployed by American courts in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century in fields as diverse as water law, nuisance, tortious interference with contractual relations, and labor law. The Article investigates the reasons why in the United States, contrary to continental systems where rules limiting a malicious or unreasonable use of one's right coalesced into a unitary category of "abuse of rights," these rules remained largely nonintegrated. Rationalization of these nonintegrated reasonableness tests and malice rules, I argue, was achieved by means of a novel, unitary style of reasoning, hardly fitting the traditional portrait of nineteenth-century "Classical" orthodoxy, rather than by means of conceptual integration. Further, the Article suggests that abuse of rights' potential as a tool for social reform was consistently defused. In the United States, rarely and timidly did courts deploy malice rules to effect progressive distributive outcomes. And even when they did, they invariably resorted to the individualistic language of modern private law.

Keywords: property law, property theory, legal history, comparative law, comparative law theory

JEL Classification: K11, K19, K33, K39

Suggested Citation

di Robilant, Anna, Abuse of Rights: The Continental Drug and the Common Law (June 20, 2014). Boston Univ. School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 14-28, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2457018 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2457018

Anna Di Robilant (Contact Author)

Boston University - School of Law ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

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