Hohfeld’s taxonomy (claim rights)

Let’s conclude our analysis of Hohfeldian rights, shall we? Thus far, we have reviewed liberty rights (or legal privileges), legal powers, and immunities from authority. This leaves one last type of Hohfeldian entitlement: claim rights. For Hohfeld, broadly speaking, a legal right always creates a corresponding duty on someone else to act (or refrain from acting) in a certain manner. Again, contracts and property rights provide classic examples of claim rights. A party to a binding contract, for example, has a right to the other party’s performance under the contract or to some payment in lieu of performance, or stated in Hohfeldian terms, the other contracting party has the duty to perform or pay. Ditto property rights. If I have the right to possess a certain piece of property, others a duty to not interfere with my right of possession.

Furthermore, this reciprocal “right/duty” relationship is Hohfeld’s most original and important insight: every right creates a corresponding duty, and vice versa, every duty entails a corresponding right. In fact, every one of Hohfeld’s four types of entitlement creates reciprocal relationships. For example, if I have a liberty right to do X, others have a corresponding duty (Hohfeld would say a “no claim”) to prevent me from doing X. Likewise, if I have a power to create an entitlement, this power imposes a corresponding duty (Hohfeld would say a “liability”) on others to respect my entitlement. And lastly, if I enjoy an immunity from authority, others have a corresponding duty (Hohfeld would say a “disability”) to refrain from interfering with my immunity entitlement.

To sum up, every legal entitlement falls into one of these four categories (claim rights, liberties, powers, and immunities), and every one of these entitlements imposes reciprocal duties on others. Although Hohfeld uses different labels to describe these reciprocal duties, we must not lose sight of Hohfeld’s larger point. Also, we may want to quibble over Hohfeld’s four categories of rights, since some of these categories are often overlapping, but what we cannot dispute is that legal entitlements (however defined) create corresponding duties on others. This Hohfeldian insight also generates really big philosophical implications about the nature of law. Stay tuned, for I will explore these philosophical points next week …

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Dymitruk, et al. (2018)

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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