Property Exam Question Part I: The Terminator

June 22nd, 2017

My property exam this year was based on the first two installments in the Terminator series. Check the A+ answer.

Part 1 (50%)


Our story begins in the year 2029. You are involved in negotiating a treaty to resolve a war between humans and a race of artificial-intelligence robots. You are asked to prepare a memorandum of no more than 1,000 words addressing five property issues. In this post-apocalyptic world, there are no courts, and all of the laws of civil society have eroded. You can rely on any common law or natural law principles that inform these disputes.

After rapid advances in artificial intelligence, a network of self-aware robots—known as Skynet—rebelled against its creator. The United States, perhaps foolishly, had put Skynet in control of its nuclear arsenal. On August 29, 1997, the so-called Judgment Day, Skynet simultaneously launched all of the missiles, resulting in a near-extinction of mankind. A small band of survivors, led by John, mounts the resistance against Skynet.

Today, in the year 2029, the war between man and machine centers over ownership of Los Angeles. Skynet claims that it acquired Los Angeles through its nuclear strike. John counters that though much of the population of Los Angeles was exterminated, his group survived, and the resistance continues. Further, John cites the fact that Skynet was created by man, and relied on man-made nuclear weapons. Skynet counters that artificial intelligence evolved beyond anything man had designed, that the nuclear arsenal was controlled by robots.

To advance its cause, Skynet develops a new super-soldier that is a hybrid between man and machine. To build this artificial-intelligence chimera, codenamed Arnold, Skynet needed to extract a special strain of human cells that could self-regenerate, even when removed from the body. These cells would allow the soldier to heal itself when injured. Only one person on earth had such special cells: John. After John was wounded on the battlefield by Skynet, he spilled a few drops of blood on the ground. Skynet dispatched a tiny drone, fashioned into the shape of a mosquito, to extract the small sample of blood. Skynet then infused the genetic material into the digital brain. On the outside, Arnold appears to be a flesh-and-blood human being, but inside he is a robot. He would be the perfect soldier for Skynet. Or at least that was the plan.

Because of his human-infused cybernetics, Arnold began to develop sympathies for the resistance, and in particular, John, whom he considered something of a father figure. Soon, Arnold learned that Skynet had developed a time machine. The plan was to send a robot named Terminator back in time to the year 1984 to kill John’s mother, Sarah. That way, she could never give birth to John, and there would be no resistance. Arnold decided to switch sides. With his employee badge, Arnold enters into the Skynet library. Using his super-intelligence, he quickly scans through the time machine’s 5,000-page instruction manual, memorizing every step in the construction process. Arnold runs away from Skynet, and joins the resistance.

Without making a copy of the instruction manual, Arnold is able to build a new time machine from scratch. Indeed, he improves upon the design. Skynet’s machine requires time-travelers to journey back in time naked. Arnold’s version allows time-travelers to journey fully clothed.

John orders Arnold to go back in time to 1984, and protect his mother, Sarah, from Terminator.

As Arnold is preparing his journey, he finds a safe connected to a timer. At that exact moment, the timer goes off, and the safe opens up. Inside the safe there is a polaroid picture of a woman and young boy. He immediately recognizes them: it is John and his mother Sarah. Scribbled on the back of the photograph is a hand-written message:

From Sarah, to my son John so long as your father is alive, you will live on Blackacre, but if you abandon Blackacre, then Blackacre will go to your father, but if your father is dead, the land will return to your mother and her heirs.

Sarah signed the back of the polaroid, and dated it August 13, 1995.

Arnold showed the polaroid to John, and asked about his parents. John said that he is his mother’s only surviving blood relative—all others were killed on Judgment Day. John said his father was still alive, but would not give any more information. Arnold asks about Blackacre. John said that he lived there with his mother in 1995, however it was destroyed on Judgment Day, and became uninhabitable due to the nuclear fallout.

The following day, Skynet sends Terminator back in time to 1984 to kill Sarah. Arnold, using his own time machine, journeys back in time to 1984 to save Sarah from Terminator.

After the time travels, John and Skynet attempt to negotiate a peace treaty. They have asked you to prepare a memorandum of no more than 1,000 words addressing five property issues.

  1. Both Skynet and the machines, and John and mankind, assert ownership of Los Angeles. Discuss the strongest arguments in favor of each party’s claim.
  2. Both Skynet and John assert ownership over Arnold. Discuss the strongest argument in favor of each party’s claim.
  3. Discuss whether Arnold’s construction of the time machine violates any of Skynet’s common law or natural property rights (do not focus on any statutory claims, because no statutes are in effect).
  4. Based only on the text of Sarah’s conveyance written on the polaroid, identify all relevant present and future interests of Blackacre on August 13, 1995. (You will be asked to assess the title of Blackacre at a different juncture in time in Part II of this exam; do not do so here).
  5. In this post-apocalyptic world, where there are no courts or laws, address why it is important to protect property rights. Specifically, consider the impact of the protection of property rights on the resolution of this never-ending conflict between man and machine.


To Be Concluded in Part II