Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.S. 211 (1995)

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PLAUT et al. v. SPENDTHRIFT FARM, INC., et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the sixth circuit

No. 93-1121. Argued November 30, 1994—Decided April 18, 1995

In a 1987 civil action, petitioners alleged that in 1983 and 1984 respondents committed fraud and deceit in the sale of stock in violation of 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The District Court dismissed the action with prejudice following this Court's decision in Lampf, Pleva, Lipkind, Prupis & Petigrow v. Gilbertson, 501 U. S. 350, 364, which required that suits such as petitioners' be commenced within one year after the discovery of the facts constituting the violation and within three years after such violation. After the judgment became final, Congress enacted 27A(b) of the 1934 Act, which provides for reinstatement on motion of any action commenced pre-Lampf but dismissed thereafter as time barred, if the action would have been timely filed under applicable pre-Lampf state law. Although finding that the statute's terms required that petitioners' ensuing 27A(b) motion be granted, the District Court denied the motion on the ground that 27A(b) is unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Section 27A(b) contravenes the Constitution's separation of powers to the extent that it requires federal courts to reopen final judgments entered before its enactment. Pp. 215-240. (a) Despite respondents' arguments to the contrary, there is no reasonable construction on which 27A(b) does not require federal courts to reopen final judgments in suits dismissed with prejudice by virtue of Lampf. Pp. 215-217. (b) Article III establishes a "judicial department" with the "province and duty . . . to say what the law is" in particular cases and controversies. Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177. The Framers crafted this charter with an expressed understanding that it gives the Federal Judiciary the power, not merely to rule on cases, but to decide them conclusively, subject to review only by superior courts in the Article III hierarchy. Thus, the Constitution forbids the Legislature to interfere with courts' final judgments. Pp. 219-225. (c) Section 27A(b) effects a clear violation of the foregoing principle by retroactively commanding the federal courts to reopen final judgments. This Court's decisions have uniformly provided fair warning that retroactive legislation such as 27A(b) exceeds congressional pow-


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