Landgraf v. USI Film Products

RESPONDENT:Usi Film Products et al.
LOCATION:Kiryas Joel Village School District

DOCKET NO.: 92-757
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 511 US 244 (1994)
ARGUED: Oct 13, 1993
DECIDED: Apr 26, 1994

Drew S. Days, III – as amicus curiae, supporting the Petitioners
Eric Schnapper – on behalf of the Petitioners
Glen D. Nager – on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case


Media for Landgraf v. USI Film Products

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 13, 1993 in Landgraf v. USI Film Products

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 26, 1994 in Landgraf v. USI Film Products

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinions of the Court in two cases will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 is a major piece of federal legislation.

When it enacted that statute, Congress provided additional remedies for civil rights violations and affectively overruled seven of this Court’s decisions interpreting earlier civil rights statute.

Despite the importance of the legislation and unlike the 1990 version of the statute which President Bush had vetoed, the 1991 Act is silent on the question whether most of its provisions apply to cases that arose before November 19, 1991, the date the statue became affective.

The two cases, that I have to announce this morning, present questions concerning the retroactivity of two sections of the Act.

The Landgraf case, which comes to us from the Fifth Circuit, involves Section 102 which creates a right to recover compensatory and punitive damages for certain violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and it further provides that any party may demand a trial by jury if such damages are sought.

The Rivers case, which comes to us from the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, involves Section 101 which expands the scope of the 1866 Civil Rights Act’s prohibition against racial discrimination in the making and enforcement of contracts.

In each of these cases, we agree with the Court of Appeals that the statutory provision at issue should not be applied retroactively.

The principal submission of both petitioners is based on the text of the Act.

They argue that the expressed preclusion of retroactive application in two sections of the Act gives rise to a negative implication that Congress intended the remainder of the Act to apply to pending cases that arose before the Act was passed.

Although this argument has some force, it seems implausible to us that Congress would resolve the important matter of retroactivity through negative inferences.

We ultimately reject the argument relying in part on legislative history disclosing that Congress omitted from the 1991 Act the kind of explicit retroactivity provision that it had included in the 1990 Bill that was vetoed by President Bush.

Because the text of the 1991 Act does not resolve the retroactivity issues, we rest our decisions on judicial presumptions governing the temporal reach of statutes.

A presumption against statutory retroactivity has deep roots in our jurisprudence.

In decisions spanning two centuries, the court has declined to interpret new statutes so as to impose new legally disadvantages on past acts unless Congress clearly intended that result.

We are not satisfied that the presumption reach retroactivity applies to the provisions at issue in the Landgraf case.

Although employment discrimination has been forbidden since long before 1991, the new damages remedies of the 1991 Act attached new legal burdens to a Title VII violation.

If applied to conduct occurring before their enactment, the new damages provisions would, thus, operate retroactively.

Moreover, because the new jury trial right is only available for plaintiffs seeking damages, that provision likewise applies only in cases arising after November 21, 1991.

In the Rivers case, the petitioners advance an argument that was not available in Landgraf.

They contend that Section 101 of the 1991 Act applies to pending cases because Congress unquestionably intended to overrule this Court’s construction of the 1866 Act in Patterson against Mclean Credit Union, and to restore the broader understanding of the law that had prevailed in the Courts of Appeals before Paterson was decided.

We disagree with that submission.

When Congress responds to a judicial decision, it may wish to make the responding statute retroactive in order to limit the effects of a ruling with which it disagrees.

However, Congress’ decision to overrule one of their cases does not of itself demonstrate an intent to legislate retroactively.

Clear evidence of a specific legislative intention to make the new statute retroactive is still required.

Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals in each of these cases.

Justice Scalia, joined by Justices Kennedy and Thomas has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, and Justice Blackmun has filed dissenting opinions in both cases.