Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc., 514 U.S. 211, 25 (1995)

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

Opinion of the Court

is simply the recitation of pre-existing judicial power. The same is true of another of the dissent's examples, 28 U. S. C. 2255, which provides federal prisoners a statutory motion to vacate a federal sentence. This procedure " 'restates, clarifies and simplifies the procedure in the nature of the ancient writ of error coram nobis.' " United States v. Hayman, 342 U. S. 205, 218 (1952) (quoting the 1948 Reviser's Note to 2255). It is meaningless to speak of these statutes as applying "retroactively," since they simply codified judicial practice that pre-existed. Next, the dissent cites the provision of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940, 54 Stat. 1178, 50 U. S. C. App. 520(4), which authorizes courts, upon application, to reopen judgments against members of the Armed Forces entered while they were on active duty. It could not be clearer, however, that this provision was not retroactive. It says: "If any judgment shall be rendered in any action or proceeding governed by this section against any person in military service during the period of such service . . . such judgment may . . . be opened . . . ." (Emphasis added.)

The dissent also cites, post, at 258, a provision of the Handicapped Children's Protection Act of 1986, 82 Stat. 901, 20 U. S. C. 1415(e)(4)(B) (1988 ed. and Supp. V), which provided for the award of attorney's fees under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, 89 Stat. 773, 20 U. S. C. 1411 et seq. (1988 ed. and Supp. V). This changed the law regarding attorney's fees under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, after our decision in Smith v. Robinson, 468 U. S. 992 (1984), found such fees to be unavailable. The provision of the Statutes at Large adopting this amendment to the United States Code specified, in effect, that it would apply not only to proceedings brought after its enactment, but also to proceedings pending at the time of, or brought after, the decision in Smith. See 100 Stat. 798. The amendment says nothing about reopening final judgments, and the retroactivity provision may well mean noth-


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