Modern civil litigation is organized around the “transaction or occurrence,” a simple and fluid concept that brings together logically related claims in one lawsuit. It was a brilliant innovation a century ago, but its time has passed. Two inherent defects always lurked within transactionalism, but modern litigation realities have exacerbated them. First, transactionalism represents a crude estimate about the most efficient structure of a lawsuit. Often that estimate turns out to be wrong. Second, the goals of transactionalism are in tension. To function properly, the transactional approach must be simultaneously flexible (when structuring a lawsuit at the beginning of litigation) and predictable (when enforcing preclusion doctrine on the back end of litigation). But frequently it is neither.
I propose abandoning the transactional approach in favor of one that actually achieves transactionalism’s goals. In essence, the parties must put forward all of their claims and then, with the court, negotiate the appropriate structure of the lawsuit. Preclusion will apply only to the claims that the parties and the court choose to include in the litigation package (and that the parties failed to plead initially). The proposal will achieve three main goals. First, it will give parties and courts true flexibility to determine the most efficient structure of their specific lawsuit. Second, it will give parties new autonomy—the power to shape preclusion doctrine. Finally, it will offer certainty and predictability that parties never have had before—knowing exactly how broadly preclusion will apply.
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