Sohn v. Waterson

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

84 U.S. 596

Sohn  v.  Waterson

ERROR to the Circuit Court for the District of Kansas; the case, as appeared by the pleadings, being thus:

In 1854, one Sohn, a citizen of Ohio, obtained a judgment in one of the courts of the State named against a certain Waterson. Soon after this Waterson went to Kansas, and from 1854 became and remained a citizen of that State.

On the 10th of February, 1859, four years or more after the judgment in Ohio was obtained, the legislature of Kansas passed a statute which enacted:

'That all actions founded on any promissory note, bill of exchange, writing obligatory, bond, contract, judgment, decree, or other legal liability, made, executed, rendered, &c., beyond the limits of this Territory, shall be commenced within two years next after the cause or right of such action shall have accrued, and not after.'

This statute being on the statute-book, and Waterson being now, as already mentioned, a citizen of Kansas, Sohn, still a citizen of Ohio, in 1870 sued him in the court below to recover the amount of the judgment which he had obtained against him in Ohio, A.D. 1854.

The defendant pleaded the above-quoted statute of limitations of the State of Kansas, namely, that the action did not accrue within two years next before the commencement of the suit. The plaintiff demurred to this plea, and upon this demurrer judgment was rendered for the defendant.

The court below said:

'As the defendant was a resident of this State when the act of February 10th, 1859, took effect, it is our opinion that the two years' limitation therein provided began to run in favor of the defendant as against the present cause of action from that period, and that this action might have been brought at any time within two years after that act went into operation. Not having been brought within that period it was barred.'

Mr. J. B. Sanborn, for the plaintiff in error:

We must interpret the Kansas statute according to what its words say, and infer, as a purpose, what the legislature of the State has in plain terms indicated to be the intent. Thus interpreted the statute attempts to bar summarily an existing right of action. This is within the constitutional inhibition, that 'no State shall pass a law impairing the obligation of contracts.' A reasonable opportunity must be afforded to parties to try all rights of action existing when such a law passed. [1]

The court below sought to give a semi-prospective operation to the act; but if the act is to be interpreted prospectively at all, it must be interpreted so wholly; and this would have the effect of restricting its application to actions accruing after its passage. Such assuredly was not the purpose of the legislature, if we may judge by what it says. The act was meant to operate generally; and so operating, it cannot, as we have said, be sustained as to rights of action existing when it was passed.

Mr. Thomas Ewing, contra.

Mr. Justice BRADLEY delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  Cooley's Constitutional Limitations, 2d edition, p. 366.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).