Constitutional Litigation Practicum

I’m excited to announce that in Spring 2015 — in addition to my regular Criminal Procedure and Constitutional Law II classes — I’ll also be co-teaching a new course tentatively titled “Constitutional Litigation Practicum.” The course will combine doctrinal and skills-based learning about litigating under 42 U.S.C. 1983.

My co-teacher will be star litigator Qusair Mohamedbhai, one of the founders of Denver law firm Rathod Mohamedbhai. Qusair recently secured the largest settlement in Denver history against the Denver Police Department for a case involving jailhouse brutality. The case also catalyzed a number of systemic changes to the Denver Police Department, including a request by a federal judge for federal oversight and changes in departmental leadership.

While Qusair and I are still working out many of the details of the course, we expect that the curriculum will include the following:

  • The course will offer a doctrinal overview of sovereign immunity, 42 U.S.C. 1983, absolute and qualified immunity, municipal liability, indemnification, compensatory and punitive damages, attorneys fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988, and other topics related to constitutional litigation as time permits.
  • Each student will take and defend a deposition relating to a factually ambiguous situation involving an alleged constitutional violation by government officials. The depositions will be transcribed by actual court reporters to facilitate practice at creating a record. Students will also gain experience preparing witnesses. The depositions will be recorded and, along with the transcripts that result, will receive detailed feedback.
  • The deposition transcript, along with other elements of a case file we will prepare, will serve as the basis for a written motion for summary judgment that will include a qualified immunity issue. Students will turn in their motions, receive detailed feedback, and have an opportunity to revise their motions.
  • The semester will culminate with the students arguing the summary judgment motion before a panel of sitting judges.
  • The course will also familiarize students with recent empirical research relating to litigation under section 1983. For example, Joanna Schwartz (UCLA) has recently published important research revealing that indemnification is a near-certainty in most police departments that has both legal and strategic implications for section 1983 litigation. (I summarized and reviewed her work here.) Students will learn how to use recent research to their advantage.
  • Finally, the course will include a unit on building a successful civil rights practice. Qusair and his partner founded Rathod Mohamedbhai in 2012; in just two years the firm has grown to seven attorneys. It’s difficult to think of a better person to discuss the nuts and bolts of building a successful civil rights practice.

Over the next few months, I hope to post periodically about developing and implementing the course. Depending on the topic, Qusair and I expect to write some of the posts together and I’ll write some on my own. I’m excited about the course and hope that it can serve as one model for integrating doctrinal and skills instruction.