Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.S. 211, 7 (1995)

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Cite as: 514 U. S. 211 (1995)

Opinion of the Court

As an alternative reason why 27A(b) does not require the reopening of final judgments, respondents suggest that the subsection applies only to cases still pending in the federal courts when 27A was enacted. This has only half the defect of the first argument, for it makes only half of 27A purposeless— 27A(b). There is no need to "reinstate" actions that are still pending; 27A(a) (the new statute of limitations) could and would be applied by the courts of appeals. On respondents' reading, the only consequence of 27A(b) would be the negligible one of permitting the plaintiff in the pending appeal from a statute-of-limitations dismissal to return immediately to the district court, instead of waiting for the court of appeals' reversal. To enable 27A(b) to achieve such an insignificant consequence, one must disregard the language of the provision, which refers generally to suits "dismissed as time barred." It is perhaps arguable that this does not include suits that are not yet finally dismissed, i. e., suits still pending on appeal; but there is no basis for the contention that it includes only those. In short, 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.

III

Respondents submit that 27A(b) violates both the separation of powers and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.3 Because the latter submission, if correct, might dictate a similar result in a challenge to state legislation under the Fourteenth Amendment, the former is the narrower ground for adjudication of the constitutional questions in the case, and we therefore consider it first. Ash-wander v. TVA, 297 U. S. 288, 347 (1936) (Brandeis, J., concurring). We conclude that in 27A(b) Congress has exceeded its authority by requiring the federal courts to exercise

3 "No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U. S. Const., Amdt. 5.

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