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decided: March 11, 1940.



Hughes, McReynolds, Stone, Roberts, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas; Murphy took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Reed

[ 309 U.S. Page 374]

 MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question is whether the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment is violated by a private act of Congress directing a review of an order for compensation under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act*fn1 after there had been a final award by the deputy commissioner and after the time for review of the award had expired.

On January 17, 1931, the appellee Clark fell and fractured a rib while working on the navigable waters of the United States as a longshoreman for the appellant Paramino Lumber Company. The other appellant, the Union Insurance Company of Canton, Ltd., is the insurance

[ 309 U.S. Page 375]

     carrier of the Lumber Company under the Compensation Act. The fall having disabled Clark, the appellants voluntarily paid him compensation. Then, on Clark's application, hearings were had under the Compensation Act which resulted in a determination on August 26, 1931, by the deputy commissioner that Clark had been wholly disabled from the date of his fall to July 4, 1931, that on the latter date he had recovered from the disability, and that he had been paid by appellants all the compensation due him. No proceedings being brought to review this award, it became final in thirty days.*fn2 Almost five years later, the Congress passed a private act ordering the Compensation Commission to review Clark's case and to issue a new order, the provisions in the Compensation Act limiting time for reviewing awards "to the contrary notwithstanding."*fn3 The information which led the House and Senate Committees on Claims to recommend passage of the act*fn4 indicated that

[ 309 U.S. Page 376]

     Clark had first been treated by his employer's physician who operated on his twelfth rib and reported that an examination of the eleventh rib showed a firm union at the site of the fracture of that rib. On the basis of this report the deputy commissioner concluded that Clark had recovered and terminated his compensation. But Clark's pain continued, and within four months of the deputy commissioner's order X-rays taken by other physicians disclosed that the fracture of the eleventh rib was ununited, and in order to give Clark relief an operation fusing the bone fragments had to be performed. After this the rib healed, but in March, 1935, the physician who performed the second operation reported that Clark was still experiencing pain in the region of his injury. Since the deputy commissioner had no jurisdiction over the case after he made his order, and since the time for judicial review expired prior to the time of the operation on the eleventh rib, Clark had no opportunity under the act to have his compensation readjusted.*fn5

After an unsuccessful attempt by appellants to enjoin a hearing under the private act,*fn6 a hearing was had and

[ 309 U.S. Page 377]

     the deputy commissioner issued a new award granting Clark compensation for total disability from the date of the prior award, July 4, 1931, to January 5, 1939. Appellants brought two actions against Clark and the deputy commissioner seeking injunctions against the operation of the private act through prohibition of any further steps under the new award. The first bill was framed as an independent suit in equity; the second sought relief under the section of the Compensation Act providing for "injunction preceedings" to review awards made under the Act.*fn7 Under the Act of August 24, 1937,*fn8 a three-judge court was convened and the Attorney General duly notified. The causes having been transferred to the admiralty side of the court and consolidated for all purposes, the appellees filed exceptions claiming that the appellants had failed to state a cause of action. The court upheld the validity of the special act and sustained the appellee's exceptions.*fn9

By direct appeal the appellants challenge the decree below, contending that the private act violates the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. The argument of appellants is that the original award was an adjudication on which further review was barred prior to the enactment of the private act; that thereby rights and obligations were finally determined, the deprivation of which took from appellants a substantive immunity from further claims of Clark and created in Clark new substantive rights.

An award under the Longshoremen's and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act determines the liability of

[ 309 U.S. Page 378]

     employer to employee.*fn10 But we do not agree that the immunity obtained by the lapse of the time for review is the type of immunity which protects its beneficiary from retroactive legislation authorizing review of the claim. This private act does not set aside a judgment, create a new right of action or direct the entry of an award. The hearing provided for is subject to the provisions of the general act for longshoremen's and harbor workers' compensation. It does not operate to create new obligations where none existed before. It is an act to cure a defect in administration developed in the handling of a compensable claim. If the continuing injury had been known during the period of compensation, payments of the same amount due under the award authorized by this act would have been due to the employee.*fn11 In such circumstances we see no violation of the due process clause.

The principle underlying this conclusion is illustrated by Graham & Foster v. Goodcell.*fn12 There a retroactive act of the Congress barred recovery by taxpayers of payments for taxes, properly owing but collection of which was barred by limitation. At the time of the enactment of the controverted statute, the taxpayer had a right to recover the payment. Limitation had been permitted to run in favor of the taxpayer under a mistake of law. This Court upheld the legislation as consistent with due process on the ground that it was a curative act to remedy mistakes in administration where the remedy "can be applied without injustice."*fn13

[ 309 U.S. Page 379]

     Rights obtained by an attaching creditor were subjected to the equity of a prior mortgage, invalid because improperly recorded, by a subsequent act in McFaddin v. Evans-Snider-Buel Company.*fn14 This Court refused to accept the argument that such a retroactive statute deprived the holder of the attachment lien, with notice of the prior equity, of property without due process.*fn15 Even more recently in Carpenter v. Wabash Railway Company,*fn16 we upheld as valid and applicable an act granting priority to railroad employees for damages for personal injuries over other claimants in equity receiverships. The act there in question was passed while certiorari was pending in this Court from a contrary decision upon priority which we assumed to be correct. This ruling resulted from the "superior equities" of the employees.*fn17

It is unimportant whether the claim persisted after the bar*fn18 or ended with the running of limitation.*fn19 To cure a fault of administration Congress may validly enact this act.

It is urged by appellant, however, that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment should be

[ 309 U.S. Page 380]

     read into the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. If so read, it is argued, this private act violates the rule of equal protection. This conclusion, however, we find untenable. Private acts, as such, are not forbidden by the Constitution. That instrument contains no provision against private acts enacted by the federal government except for a prohibition of bills of attainder and grants of nobility.*fn20 It took an act of Congress to outlaw them in the territories,*fn21 even though the Fifth Amendment is applicable to the territories.*fn22 The states have different situations as to the validity of private acts.*fn23 The constitutions of many of the states, unlike the federal, forbid private legislation without regard to the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.*fn24

[ 309 U.S. Page 381]

     Nor can we say that this legislation is an excursion of the Congress into the judicial function.*fn25



MR. JUSTICE MURPHY took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.


27 F.Supp. 823, affirmed.

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