DEAD MAN TALKING
Next time you leave the library, give a brief nod to the gentlemen lining the Clay Hall walls
between Withers Hall and Caplin Pavilion. These were the Law School's deans from
1904 to 1968. To some that may seem like a long time ago, an era receding into the mists
of time. Yet a look at recent court opinions shows that the deans of the past are
influencing decisions today.
This July a federal appellate court was confronted with a difficult venue question in United
States v. Palma-Ruedas, 121 F.3d 841 (3d Cir. 1997). The panel was divided, but both
majority opinion and dissent quoted from Armistead M. Dobie [Dean 1932-39], Venue
in Criminal Cases in the United States District Court, 12 Va. L. Rev. 287, 289
(1926). The court in U.S. v. Angotti, 105 F.3d 539 (9th Cir. 1997), also confronted
with a venue question, cited Dobie's article, noted that "Determining where an offense was
committed . . . has often been a sticky question," and then proved just how sticky by
taking more than seventeen months from argument to decision.
Professor Raleigh C. Minor's The Law of Real Property [T .M6667r 1928], revised by
F.D.G. Ribble [Dean 1939-63], has also been cited in 1997, by both federal and state
courts. Dameron v. Tyler, 206 B.R. 394 (Bankr. E.D. Va. 1997); Adams Outdoor
Advertising Ltd. Partnership v. Long, 253 Va. 206, 483 S.E.2d 224 (1997).
The cites grow a bit less frequent as we go farther back into UVA history, but an article
by William Minor Lile [Dean 1904-32], Some Views on the Rule of Stare Decisis, 4
Va. L. Rev. 95 (1916), was quoted in Hubbard v. Commonwealth, 243 Va. 1, 413
S.E.2d 875 (1992). John B. Minor [Professor of Law 1845-95], author of the
four-volume Institutes of Common and Statute Law [T .M6665i], was also cited that year
in Summer Rain v. Donning Co./Publishers, 964 F.2d 1455 (4th Cir. 1992). Minor's
portrait is not in the hall because he died before the decanal era, but his bust gazes out
over Niagara Falls on the library's second floor.
The most interesting cites to the UVA deans are from their former students. Harper v.
IVAC Corp., 1991 U.S. App. LEXIS 13105, 1991 WL 110356 (4th Cir. June 25,
1991) is a per curiam opinion with the following passage in a footnote:
Anyone fortunate enough to have had the late Judge Armistead Dobie as a professor will
remember his hypothetical used to emphasize the ongoing obligation that a court has to
insure that it properly has subject matter jurisdiction over a given case. As Professor
Dobie taught, if the janitor comes into the back of the courtroom and says, "Judge, you
ain't got jurisdiction," the court must stop what it is doing and determine the jurisdiction
question before returning to anything else.
Even though the opinion is unsigned, the only member of the panel who attended UVA
was J. Harry Michael, Class of 1942. In In re Richmond Metal Finishers, Inc., 38 B.R.
341 (E.D. Va. 1984), the late Dortch Warriner, Class of 1957, included a similar aside
about Hardy Cross Dillard [Dean 1963-68]. The subject of executory contracts, he
noted, "is not nearly so simple as I thought it was when last I was conversant with the
concept in Hardy Dillard's contracts class."
The most controversial recent citation, however, was reserved for Garrard Glenn
[Professor of Law 1928-49], whose portrait is presently without a home. In
Granfinanciera, S.A. v. Nordberg, 492 U.S. 33 (1989), Justice Brennan, writing for the
Court, quoted Glenn's work, Fraudulent Conveyances and Preferences [T .G5585f 1940].
In dissent, Justice White countered that other scholars had questioned Glenn's conclusions
as "unwise or unsupported." Brennan responded by picking apart White's sources
(including two 19th century authors named Bump and Wait), but the following term, in
Chauffeurs Local No. 391 v. Terry, 494 U.S. 558 (1990), he recounted the dispute as
an example of a "recondite controvers[y] better left to legal historians."
--Kent Olson, November 1997