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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Statutes of Limitation

In Ogden v. Saunders, Chief Justice Marshall and Bushrod Washington clashed on the issue of how statutes of limitation should be understood. One of Washington's leading arguments in Ogden was that a prospective bankruptcy law could not be distinguished from a statute of limitation. In both cases, the state was saying that a contract could not be enforced under certain circumstances. Since statutes of limitation were constitutional, why not a bankruptcy law?

Chief Justice Marshall's response in his dissent was that a statute of limitation was really a rule of evidence rather than a substantive law. He said that the statute of limitation was a presumption (in a contract action) that no breach occurred. In other words, if no suit was brought after a certain number of years, you could assume that no breach occurred. In his notes on Odgen, wrote to himself that this was wrong because statutes of limitation were, in fact, political choices and were substantive.

I'm pretty sure that nobody today thinks that a statute of limitations is properly construed as a rule of evidence. If it were, then the Federal Rules of Evidence should include them, but they do not. What the right answer was in 1827 is harder to say, but I think Marshall was wrong and Washington was right.

Posted by Gerard Magliocca on June 16, 2020 at 09:30 AM | Permalink


Important philosophical issue. I quote from the ruling indeed:

The statute of frauds, and the statute of limitations, which have been put as examples of the third and fourth classes of laws, are also admitted to be valid, because they merely concern the modes of proceeding in the trial of causes. The former, supplying a rule of evidence, and the latter,
forming a part of the remedy given by the legislature to enforce the obligation, and likewise providing a rule of evidence.

End of quotation:

But, typically one should consider it, not as substance, and either not as evidence. But, simply public policy implied through procedure:

Limitation (of period) doesn't affect or suggest, who is right, who is wrong, and why. Either, mode of evidence. But, purely procedural issue, implying certain public policy indeed:

That, one party, has the right, to consolidate his legal situation, and keep on with his normal life. Suppose, that one firm, may be sued in the near future. Suppose that the firm is putting money aside, in order to deal with it, and let know the stake holders, the public etc.... that it may be sued. But, finally it can't hold such money forever aside. It has the right finally, to know whether lawsuit is forwarded or not, and release back the money for its own use.

The same for criminal proceedings. One suspect or offender, needs to let it ago. Relieve himself from the burden of being prosecuted one day. He can't stay in such fear, until the rest of his life. He needs to move on, opening new chapter.

Also, evidences. One party needs to prepare himself for lawsuit. He can't hold evidences forever. Suppose crucial witness. The latter, can't be held forever, until prosecution is pressing charges (issues of memory or capacity to recall things or facts of course). The same for papers etc... Issue of practicality and efficiency, and:

Stability, certainty.


Posted by: El roam | Jun 16, 2020 10:48:38 AM

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