Amdt14.S1.4.11 Vested and Remedial Rights

Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

As the Due Process Clause protects against arbitrary deprivation of property, privileges or benefits that constitute property are entitled to protection. 1 Because an existing right of action to recover damages for an injury is property, that right of action is protected by the clause. 2 Thus, where repeal of a provision that made directors liable for moneys embezzled by corporate officers was applied retroactively, it deprived certain creditors of their property without due process of law. 3 A person, however, has no constitutionally protected property interest in any particular form of remedy and is guaranteed only the preservation of a substantial right to redress by an effective procedure. 4

Similarly, a statute creating an additional remedy for enforcing liability does not, as applied to stockholders then holding stock, violate due process. 5 Nor does a law that lifts a statute of limitations and makes possible a suit, previously barred, for the value of certain securities. The Fourteenth Amendment does not make an act of state legislation void merely because it has some retrospective operation. . . . Some rules of law probably could not be changed retroactively without hardship and oppression . . . . Assuming that statutes of limitation, like other types of legislation, could be so manipulated that their retroactive effects would offend the constitution, certainly it cannot be said that lifting the bar of a statute of limitation so as to restore a remedy lost through mere lapse of time is per se an offense against the Fourteenth Amendment.6

Footnotes

  1.  See, e.g., Snowden v. Hughes, 321 U.S. 1 (1944) (right to become a candidate for state office is a privilege only, hence an unlawful denial of such right is not a denial of a right of property). Cases under the equal protection clause now mandate a different result. See Holt Civic Club v. City of Tuscaloosa, 439 U.S. 60, 75 (1978) (seeming to conflate due process and equal protection standards in political rights cases).
  2.  Angle v. Chicago, St. Paul, M. & D. Ry., 151 U.S. 1 (1894).
  3.  Coombes v. Getz, 285 U.S. 434, 442, 448 (1932).
  4.  Gibbes v. Zimmerman, 290 U.S. 326, 332 (1933). See Duke Power Co. v. Carolina Envtl. Study Group, 438 U.S. 59 (1978) (limitation of common-law liability of private industry nuclear accidents in order to encourage development of energy a rational action, especially when combined with congressional pledge to take necessary action in event of accident; whether limitation would have been of questionable validity in absence of pledge uncertain but unlikely).
  5.  Shriver v. Woodbine Bank, 285 U.S. 467 (1932).
  6.  Chase Securities Corp. v. Donaldson, 325 U.S. 304, 315-16 (1945).