Hohfeld forever

The great Wesley Hohfeld (the Dmitri Mendeleev of law) famously identified four types of legal rights: claim rights, liberty rights, powers, and immunities. Alas, Hohfeld’s own writings explaining his fourfold taxonomy are not very “user friendly.” Via our colleague and friend Larry Solum, here is the best (and most succinct) summary of Hohfeld’s influential taxonomy of rights we have ever read. Below is an excerpt from Solum’s summary of Hohfeld’s fourfold taxonomy (emphasis added by us):

Lawyers tend to mush all legal rights together into a single category. The right to privacy, the right to freedom of speech, property rights, and civil rights—these diverse legal phenomena are frequently treated as if the “right” involved in these diverse cases was a single unambiguous type. Hohfeld’s first contribution was to distinguish different types of rights. Claim rights, for example, create corresponding obligations. Thus, my right to exclusive use of my land entails a corresponding duty of noninterference. You have a duty not to enter upon my land. But my property right also entails my liberty to use my land in a wide variety of ways—to build a house, plant a garden, and so forth. Correlated to that liberty is a correlative absence of inconsistent claim rights. You have no right to prevent me from building a house or planting a garden. Some legal rights involve powers over others. Thus, an employer has a right to control and direct the employee’s actions at work, and parents have authority over their children. Finally, there are immunities from authority. Thus, when children reach the age of majority or are legally emancipated they acquire immunities that disable the authority rights of their parents.

We will delve into Hohfeld’s taxonomy in our next few posts …

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Image credit: @liebenauerin

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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