Vested and Remedial Rights

As the Due Process Clause protects against arbitrary deprivation of “property,” privileges or benefits that constitute property are entitled to protection.375 Because an existing right of action to recover damages for an injury is property, that right of action is protected by the clause.376 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.377 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.378

Similarly, a statute creating an additional remedy for enforcing liability does not, as applied to stockholders then holding stock, violate due process.379 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.”380

Footnotes

375
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). [Back to text]
376
Angle v. Chicago, St. Paul, M. & D. Ry., 151 U.S. 1 (1894). [Back to text]
377
Coombes v. Getz, 285 U.S. 434, 442, 448 (1932). [Back to text]
378
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). [Back to text]
379
Shriver v. Woodbine Bank, 285 U.S. 467 (1932). [Back to text]
380
Chase Securities Corp. v. Donaldson, 325 U.S. 304, 315–16 (1945). [Back to text]