Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.S. 211, 24 (1995)

Page:   Index   Previous  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  Next



Opinion of the Court

confirms the courts' own inherent and discretionary power, "firmly established in English practice long before the foundation of our Republic," to set aside a judgment whose enforcement would work inequity. Hazel-Atlas Glass Co. v. Hartford-Empire Co., 322 U. S. 238, 244 (1944). Thus, Rule 60(b), and the tradition that it embodies, would be relevant refutation of a claim that reopening a final judgment is always a denial of property without due process; but they are irrelevant to the claim that legislative instruction to reopen impinges upon the independent constitutional authority of the courts.

The dissent promises to provide "[a] few contemporary examples" of statutes retroactively requiring final judgments to be reopened, "to demonstrate that [such statutes] are ordinary products of the exercise of legislative power." Post, at 256. That promise is not kept. The relevant retroactivity, of course, consists not of the requirement that there be set aside a judgment that has been rendered prior to its being setting aside—for example, a statute passed today which says that all default judgments rendered in the future may be reopened within 90 days after their entry. In that sense, all requirements to reopen are "retroactive," and the designation is superfluous. Nothing we say today precludes a law such as that. The finality that a court can pronounce is no more than what the law in existence at the time of judgment will permit it to pronounce. If the law then applicable says that the judgment may be reopened for certain reasons, that limitation is built into the judgment itself, and its finality is so conditioned. The present case, however, involves a judgment that Congress subjected to a reopening requirement which did not exist when the judgment was pronounced. The dissent provides not a single clear prior instance of such congressional action.

The dissent cites, first, Rule 60(b), which it describes as a "familiar remedial measure." Ibid. As we have just discussed, Rule 60(b) does not provide a new remedy at all, but

Page:   Index   Previous  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  Next

Last modified: October 4, 2007