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As noted in Chapter 3, the use of courts varies also by the types of litigants. Marc Galanter (1974) advanced a highly influential typology of litigants by the frequency of the use of courts. Those who have only occasional recourse to the courts are called one-shotters, and those who are engaged in many similar litigations over time are designated as repeat players. Examples of one-shotters include spouses in a divorce case and auto-injury claimants, while examples of repeat players include insurance and finance companies.

Based on this typology, Galanter proposed a taxonomy of four types of litigation by the configuration of parties:

  • One-shotter versus one-shotter
  • Repeat player versus one-shotter
  • One-shotter versus repeat player
  • Repeat player versus repeat player

Divorces are common illustrations of cases involving disputes between one-shotters. Disputes between one-shotters are “often between parties who have some intimate tie with one another, fighting over some unsharable good, often with overtones of ‘spite’ and ‘irrationality’ ” (Galanter, 1974:108). Neighbors may also end up in court over property disputes and other problems.

The second type of scenario, involving repeat players suing one-shotters, is exemplified by suits initiated by finance companies against debtors, landlords against tenants, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) against taxpayers. These and other examples of repeat players versus one-shotters account for much litigation every year. For repeat players, the use of law in this manner is a regular business activity. When they win their case, as usually happens, they in effect are borrowing the government’s power for their private purposes. Repeat players may use that power to achieve many objectives, such as to collect debts, oust tenants, or prohibit some harmful activity. Thus, a landlord or bank holding an unpaid mortgage may, for example, call on a sheriff to oust a tenant, to reclaim some property, to sell property belonging to a defendant, or to seize the defendant’s wages or property.

The third type of scenario involves one-shotters suing repeat players. Examples of this situation include tenants versus landlords and injury victims versus insurance companies. Outside of the personal injury area, litigation in this combination is not routine. It usually represents the attempt of some one-shotters to invoke outside help to create and use leverage against an organization with which the individual has a dispute.

The fourth type of litigation involves repeat players suing repeat players. Examples of this type include litigation between union and management and regulatory agencies and the companies they regulate. Given the large size of the organizations that are repeat players and the huge sums of money often at stake, this form of litigation is often very expensive and very time-consuming.

With these types of litigation in the background, we now further discuss certain types of conflicts between individuals, between individuals and organizations, and between organizations where one of the disputants resorts to the judiciary in an attempt to resolve the conflict.

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