CJ301: Law in Society

Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. involves a case in which Long Island Railroad Co.’s employees’ alleged negligence directly contributed to an accident that resulted in harm to Helen Palsgraf, an individual, who was present at the rail station. On appeal to the New York (State) Court of Appeals, the appellate court reversed a judgment in favor of Ms. Palsgraf. The railroad company was excused from liability and was awarded costs.
The appellate court’s (majority) analysis and ruling in Palsgraf may be harmonized or reconciled with Marx’s theories which trace development of the law to the control of the ruling class as exercised, in part, through the judiciary. See e.g., An Introduction to Sociology, p. 79 (“… instrumental Marxism traces the development of the law to the control of the ‘ruling class.’”); see also p. 83 (“The state was to quickly fall under the control of the more powerful class, the dominant economic class. Economic power was thus converted into political power. The ‘state apparatus’ – police, army, judiciary – was then ‘bourgeois’ right from the beginning.”); p. 87 (“Law is but a reflex of changing economic conditions. The primary need of the capitalist ruling class is to maintain its position of power and to assure maximization of profits.”); and, p. 84 (“… the ‘definite relations’ that this group of people (bourgeois) enters assures a common way of thinking to develop. This ‘ruling class,’ then manipulates the formation of law for its own interests.”).
Assignment Prompt: Apply principles/ concepts of Legal Realism (“LR”) and Critical Legal Studies (“CLS”), as developed in Chapter 4 of An Introduction to the Sociology of Law, to discuss how they may tend to support or undercut (or both) the accuracy of the above (highlighted) statement.
The full opinion in Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. is posted to Canvas, and the writing assignment anticipates that you will need to read it. You may but are not required to draw from the dissenting opinion in Palsgraf. Also, you may assume the reader is familiar with the facts of the Palsgraf case. Stated differently, you do not need to devote space or time to summarizing the facts, though you are invited and encouraged to integrate (i.e., utilize) relevant facts and analysis from the court’s discussion to bolster (i.e., support) your analysis.
Support your arguments/ analysis with sourced citations (and include the page number) to relevant assigned class readings, including but not necessarily limited to Chapter 4 of An Introduction to the Sociology of Law. Avoid citations to or reliance on outside sources in support of your arguments and/or analysis. [Advisory: There is a great deal of available material on the internet and elsewhere regarding the Palsgraf case, LR and CLS. These instructions expressly ask students to rely on, draw from and source assigned class readings and the Palsgraf decision. As indicated, the full court opinion (i.e., majority and dissenting opinions) is posted on Canvas under “Modules,” and you may need to “click” on the link to call it up. I’ve also posted a definition for Respondeat Superior on Canvas under “Modules,” in the event you find concepts related to that term relevant].
Your essay should be 3-4 pages (i.e., two and one-half pages does not equal three); double spaced, 12-point font and one-inch margins. Avoid use of the first person, i.e., “I think,” “I believe,” “in my opinion,” etc. No bibliography is necessary. As noted in the syllabus, four pages is not a hard cap, though conciseness is encouraged.

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