Probabilistic Availment

Posted on December 18, 2019


This post will tackle two probability questions inspired by a recent Civil Procedure practice test I took. Consider a company that randomly buys $300$ loans from houses all over the United States. What is the probability that at least one of the loans is for a house in Florida? What is the probability that there is a loan for at least one house in each of the fifty states?

The legal purpose for this analysis is determining purposeful availment, a murky part of personal jurisdiction summarized (over)simply enough as "if you meant to business in a certain state, you can be sued there." If a business only had $50$ loans, then they could make a much better case that they don't intend to be subject to a particular state. But for a large number like $300$, intuition tells you that the likelihood is much higher.

Source: Law School Memes for Edgy T-14s

Is Florida Targeted?

For the sake of simplicity, assume each state is targeted with equal probability. You could recast the problem as $300$ state quarters if it helps get over the hump of population difference between states like Wyoming and California.

If there was just one state, the probability that it isn't Florida is $\frac{49}{50}=.98$. Similarly, if $300$ states are selected, the probability none are Florida is just $.98^{300}$. So the probability that at least one is Florida is the complement:

$$ 1-.98^{300} = 99.8\%.$$

With this many loans there is high certainty that Florida is at least one of them. Side note: $99\%$ may not be high enough, read the top of page 20 of Justice Kagan's dissent in the recent SCOTUS gerrymandering case. Apparently $99\%$ isn't good enough to win over the majority.

So how many are loans are sufficient for $50\%$, $95\%$, or $99.7\%$ certainty? This is a simple exercise in logarithms. Let there be $n$ loans and a certainty $p$. Then

\begin{eqnarray*} 1-.98^n &=& p \\ .98^n &=& 1-p \\ \log(.98^n) &=& \log(1-p) \\ n\log(.98) &=& \log(1-p) \\ n &=& \frac{\log(1-p)}{\log(.98)} \\ \end{eqnarray*} So for $p=50\%$ you need $n=35$ houses, $p=95\%$ you need $n=149$ houses, and for $p=99.7\%$ you need $n=288$ houses.

Is Every State Targeted?

This is a considerably harder problem. We must consider significantly more cases than just Florida's absence. First, we can tackle it with a simulation for some perspective. The following code does the trick.

import random

num_simulations = 10000
num_states = 50
num_loans = 300
count = 0

for _ in xrange(num_simulations):
    coll = set([])
    for _ in xrange(num_loans):

    if len(coll) == 50:
        count += 1

print count/float(num_simulations)

This is helpful, but not satisfying. Can we solve this analytically?

My first intuition was an extension of the previous section, just take the probability of one state and multiply it out 50 times, $\left(1-.98^{300}\right)^{50}$. Unfortunately, there is an oversight here. The discrepancy is hard to spot with $50$ states, but becomes more and more apparent as the problem is recasted with fewer states.

Comparison of Simulation and Calculated Probability for $50$ states.
Comparison of Simulation and Calculated Probability for $30$ states.
Comparison of Simulation and Calculated Probability for $10$ states.

The issue here is that after you determine that Florida is present in the list and you try to move on to next state, that subsequent probability is constrained by how many times Florida came up in the first pass through the list. This dependence cascades down with combinatorial complexity.

Counting a Simpler Case

For illustrative purposes, let's walk through a simpler case, $3$ states and $5$ loans. This will "prove" the accuracy of the simulation and lay out the means for (and complexity of) an algorithm to tackle larger numbers.

There are $3^5=243$ possible ways for the loans to be divided up. We will brute force count all $243$ outcomes by arranging into three buckets: one state, two state, and three state. Call the states $A$, $B$, and $C$ and treat the loan distribution like 5-letter words comprised of these letters.

The one-state cases are (quite trivially) $AAAAA$, $BBBBB$, and $CCCCC$.

It gets trickier with more states. For a two-state solution, consider the alphabetical pairs $(A,B)$, $(A,C)$, and $(B,C)$. These pairs can fit into the words summarized in the table below. (The first letter in the ordered pair matches with $X$ and the second with $Y$.)

PatternNumber of Combinations

Using the $3$ pairs and $5+10+10+5=30$ arrangements, there are $3\cdot 30=90$ two-state solutions. Ordering the three pairings above ensures we don't overcount. For a three-state solution, there is only one alphabetical order $(A,B,C)$. These pairs can fit into the words summarized in the table below.

PatternNumber of Combinations

So there are $150$ three-state solutions. Therefore, the probability that every state is availed is $\frac{150}{243}=0.6173$, which matches the simulation value plotted below ($0.6161$ calculated from $100,000$ simulations). And as a sanity check, our counting method produced $150+90+3=243$ lists.

Comparison of Simulation and Calculated Probability for $3$ states with the $5$-loan, $3$-state solution circled in red.

Another Way to Count The Same Thing

Consider the following alternate approach for counting the $5$-loan, $3$-state problem. We will generate the number of lists where the states $A$, $B$, and $C$ show up $2$, $2$, and $1$ times respectively. First, state $A$ can show up in $\binom{5}{2}=10$ of the five locations. Remove the $2$ instances of state A from the list; now state $B$ can show up in $\binom{3}{2}=3$ remaining ways. Once $B$'s locations are picked, there is only one spot remaining for state $C$. Therefore the total number of ways to order this set is $\binom{5}{2}\cdot \binom{3}{2}\cdot \binom{1}{1} = 30$.

The same procedure is computed for all $\binom{4}{2}=6$ partitions of the $5$ states into $3$ non-empty groups in the table below.

PatternNumber of Combinations
$(1,1,3)$$\binom{5}{1}\cdot \binom{4}{1}\cdot \binom{3}{3}=20$
$(1,2,2)$$\binom{5}{1}\cdot \binom{4}{2}\cdot \binom{2}{2}=30$
$(1,3,1)$$\binom{5}{1}\cdot \binom{4}{1}\cdot \binom{1}{1}=20$
$(2,1,2)$$\binom{5}{2}\cdot \binom{3}{1}\cdot \binom{2}{2}=30$
$(2,2,1)$$\binom{5}{2}\cdot \binom{3}{2}\cdot \binom{1}{1}=30$
$(3,1,1)$$\binom{5}{3}\cdot \binom{2}{1}\cdot \binom{1}{1}=20$

This approach affords us a new insight: a clear look at the combinatorial complexity required to count this. We must count the ways to arrange letters for every partition of loans among states. For $5$ loans and $3$ states there are $\binom{4}{2}=6$ partitions, but for $300$ loans and $50$ states there are $\binom{299}{49}=5.19\times 10^{56}$ partitions.

It also affords a nice way to visualize different computations. The $5$-loan, $3$-state problem is a bit bland, but here is a flow chart of the paths to calculate all arrangements for the $6$-loan, $4$-state problem.

The recursive nature of these patterns lends itself to either recursive solutions, or potentially even a dynamic programming algorithm. That said, the simulations were a lot easier to generate and the combinatorial complexity of the problem makes it intractable for large numbers.

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