NDAs: A Study in Rights, Wrongs, and Civil Recourse

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According to John Goldberg and Ben Zipursky (“Goldursky”), there are two central pillars to tort law, pillars that are best explicated by civil recourse theory. Torts are legally recognized wrongs, and the power to seek redress is part of the Lockean bargain. Using the recent question of whether nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) should be permitted, this Article unearths an instability in the kind of normativity upon which Goldursky relies. Specifically, this paper explores how the unenforceability or bans on NDAs premised upon third party harms may presuppose the victim has a duty to rescue these third parties. I begin by revealing the underlying moral relationship at the heart of these potential duties. From there, I explore how these sorts of arguments cannot easily be voiced within the presuppositions of civil recourse theory. Finally, I consider the pressure points within civil recourse theory that could potentially take on board these moral considerations. My bottom line is simple: Whichever way one thinks about NDAs and the duty to rescue, a dilemma is created for Goldursky. There is simply a mismatch between the kind of arguments that one can make about why it would be (in)appropriate to limit the plaintiff’s cause of action and what the underlying content of tort law should be. Ultimately, the kind of normativity that they need to understand the Lockean bargain, as well as the content of and caveats thereto, may require more bite than positive morality.


tort law, nondisclosure agreements, private law

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American Journal of Jusiprudence