The Law of Deception: A Research Agenda
35 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2018
Date Written: 2018
The law of deception is the body of laws that address acts and omissions that wrongfully cause others to hold false beliefs. So, defined, the law of deception cuts across traditional doctrinal boundaries. It encompasses the torts of deceit and defamation, false advertising laws, labeling requirements, securities fraud and disclosure regulations, criminal fraud, perjury statutes, and a host of other generic and more targeted laws. This essay suggests that the law of deception constitutes a coherent body of law, and identifies four salient questions about it.
The questions are these: First, within the law of deception one finds several different approaches to interpreting potentially deceptive communications. These include highly contextualist approaches (e.g., the tort of deceit), more restrictive literal-meaning rules (federal perjury law), and occasionally default legal meanings (the FTC’s reasonable basis rule). One set of questions concerns when and why which interpretive approach is appropriate. A second set of questions concerns legally salient harms. Laws of deception can be designed to protect those who might be deceived (e.g., negligent misrepresentation), those about whom a lie is told (defamation), honest competitors (false advertising laws), and credible communication more generally (as the Stolen Valor Act attempted). A theory of the law of deception should disaggregate these distinct purposes and evaluate the justifications for and design implications of each. A third set of questions concerns the relationship between deception and consent. Although deception sometimes vitiates consent (in the torts of battery and trespass, in contract law, in fourth amendment searches, and in rape law), it does not always do so. And the line between vitiating and non-vitiating deception shifts across different laws. This too demands explanation. Finally, sometimes the law permits parties to contract out of liability for deception (e.g., “big boy” letters), effectively consenting to what would otherwise be deceptive behavior. A theory of the law of deception should also provide an account when, why and how parties are able to contract out of laws of deception.
These are not the only interesting questions one might ask about the law of deception. Nor does this essay attempt to answer them. The goal is to make the case for thinking about the law of deception as a whole, and to suggest some directions for further research.
Keywords: deception, fraud, consent, legal theory
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