Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.S. 211, 2 (1995)

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212

PLAUT v. SPENDTHRIFT FARM, INC.

Syllabus

ers. See, e. g., Chicago & Southern Air Lines, Inc. v. Waterman S. S. Corp., 333 U. S. 103, 113. Petitioners are correct that when a new law makes clear that it is retroactive, an appellate court must apply it in reviewing judgments still on appeal, and must alter the outcome accordingly. However, once a judgment has achieved finality in the highest court in the hierarchy, the decision becomes the last word of the judicial department with regard to the particular case or controversy, and Congress may not declare by retroactive legislation that the law applicable to that case was in fact something other than it was. It is irrelevant that 27A(b) reopens (or directs the reopening of) final judgments in a whole class of cases rather than in a particular suit, and that the final judgments so reopened rested on the bar of a statute of limitations rather than on some other ground. Pp. 225-230. (d) Apart from 27A(b), the Court knows of no instance in which Congress has attempted to set aside the final judgment of an Article III court by retroactive legislation. Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 60(b), 20 U. S. C. 1415(e)(4), 28 U. S. C. 2255, 50 U. S. C. App. 520(4), and, e. g., the statutes at issue in United States v. Sioux Nation, 448 U. S. 371, 391- 392, Sampeyreac v. United States, 7 Pet. 222, 238, Paramino Lumber Co. v. Marshall, 309 U. S. 370, and Pennsylvania v. Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Co., 18 How. 421, distinguished. Congress's prolonged reticence would be amazing if such interference were not understood to be constitutionally proscribed by the Constitution's separation of powers. The Court rejects the suggestion that 27A(b) might be constitutional if it exhibited prospectivity or a greater degree of general applicability. Pp. 230-240.

1 F. 3d 1487, affirmed.

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, and Thomas, JJ., joined. Breyer, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 240. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg, J., joined, post, p. 246.

William W. Allen argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs was J. Montjoy Trimble.

Michael R. Dreeben argued the cause for the United States urging reversal. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Days, Assistant Attorney General Hunger, Deputy Solicitor General Kneedler, Barbara C. Biddle, Simon M. Lorne, Paul Gonson, and Jacob H. Stillman.

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