Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.S. 211, 19 (1995)

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

Opinion of the Court

excluded essential testimony; or a rule of offsetting wrong (such as contributory negligence) that has often prevented recovery. To distinguish statutes of limitations on the ground that they are mere creatures of Congress is to distinguish them not at all. The second supposedly distinguishing characteristic of a statute of limitations is that it can be extended, without violating the Due Process Clause, after the cause of the action arose and even after the statute itself has expired. See, e. g., Chase Securities Corp. v. Donaldson, 325 U. S. 304 (1945). But that also does not set statutes of limitations apart. To mention only one other broad category of judgment-producing legal rule: Rules of pleading and proof can similarly be altered after the cause of action arises, Landgraf v. USI Film Products, supra, at 275, and n. 29, and even, if the statute clearly so requires, after they have been applied in a case but before final judgment has been entered. Petitioners' principle would therefore lead to the conclusion that final judgments rendered on the basis of a stringent (or, alternatively, liberal) rule of pleading or proof may be set aside for retrial under a new liberal (or, alternatively, stringent) rule of pleading or proof. This alone provides massive scope for undoing final judgments and would substantially subvert the doctrine of separation of powers.

The central theme of the dissent is a variant on these arguments. The dissent maintains that Lampf "announced" a new statute of limitations, post, at 246, in an act of "judicial . . . lawmaking," post, at 247, that "changed the law," post, at 250. That statement, even if relevant, would be wrong. The point decided in Lampf had never before been addressed by this Court, and was therefore an open question, no matter what the lower courts had held at the time. But the more important point is that Lampf as such is irrelevant to this case. The dissent itself perceives that "[w]e would have the same issue to decide had Congress enacted the Lampf rule," and that the Lampf rule's genesis in judicial lawmaking rather than, shall we say, legislative lawmaking, "should not


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