The final category of legal disputes we will consider involves one organization suing another organization. Examples of such interorganizational conflict include disputes between a university and the community over matters of zoning, land use, and tax-exempt status; disputes between a corporation and the federal government concerning compliance with federal regulations, such as occupational safety, pollution, and civil rights; or disputes between two corporations over such matters as copyright infringement or possible theft of business secrets.

As these examples indicate, disputes between organizations cover a wide spectrum of participants and controversies. Corporate executives may take their disagreements to court over contract interpretation, trademarks, or alleged patent infringements. The federal government is involved as a plaintiff in suits to acquire land needed for federal projects (highways, dams, parks, buildings) that it is unable to purchase through negotiation; it is also involved as a plaintiff in actions to force private companies to comply with contracts with federal agencies, and in suits brought under the antitrust statutes. Disputes between the government and private firms arise over matters of licensing and regulation, labor relations, and governmental contracts. Local governments are often the defendants in cases involving zoning and land use, location of public housing projects, and tax reassessment.

In recent decades, complex public-policy disputes and regulatory disputes stemming from the government’s regulation of the economic and social systems have become more pronounced. The regulation of economic activities has become pervasive, and it involves important decisions about the distribution of goods and services.

Social-policy disputes develop when the government pursues broad national objectives that may involve many interests and groups, such as racial equality and economic opportunity, environmental protection, income security, and public health and safety. Examples of agencies with such objectives are the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

In fact, large-scale social welfare programs—cash transfers, food stamps, housing, health, and education—have often generated complex public-policy disputes (Mink and Solinger, 2004).

Regulatory disputes frequently involve difficult technical questions (Morriss et al., 2009), whereas social-policy disputes raise difficult political and value questions. In both types of disputes, information about important variables is often incomplete or inaccurate, effects of alternative choices are hard to ascertain, and often there are no easy answers to cost-benefit questions or to questions of trade-offs among various interests. The various regulatory agencies discussed in Chapter 3, in addition to major policy issues, also process large numbers of routine disputes. For example, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), in addition to allocating airline routes (large complex disputes), in any given year will also handle thousands of passenger and shipper complaints, tariff applications, and referrals. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), in addition to a number of formal hearings annually, also rules on thousands of registration statements.

In many instances, the formal quasi-adjudicative procedures used by regulatory agencies are ill-suited to resolving large and complex disputes. Delays in settling disputes are frequent, and the situation is further compounded by the fact that some agencies traditionally engaged in economic regulations are now being asked to consider environmental claims as well. The regulatory process, in a sense, encourages conflict, rather than acting to reconcile opposing interests. When agencies grant licenses, set rates, or determine the safety of drugs, they often allow the parties to the proceedings to have a full adversary hearing with impartial decision-makers, formal records, and rights of cross-examination and appeal. This leads the parties to approach the agency as if they were in a lawsuit.

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