Calder v. Bull
3 U.S. 386 (1798)

  • When Morrison died, his will stated that Mr. and Mrs. Bull were to be the beneficiaries.
  • Due to some problems with the will, the Bulls were denied an inheritance by a Connecticut Probate Court.
    • Instead, the Court gave the money to a guy named Calder.
  • The Bulls attempted to appeal the decision more than a year and a half later, but they found that under State law, the Statute of Limitations for filing an appeal was 18 months, so they lost their chance to appeal.
  • Undaunted, the Bulls persuaded the Connecticut legislature to change the law, which enabled them to successfully appeal the case.
  • On appeal, the Court reversed and gave the inheritance to the Bulls. Calder appealed.
    • Calder argued that the Connecticut legislation a violation of Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution, which prohibits ex post facto laws.
      • Ex post facto means that the act took place before the law changed, and so the act can’t be judged by the new law.
      • In this case, Calder argued that the principle of ex post facto meant that even if Connecticut changed the Statute of Limitations, the courts couldn’t retroactively apply it to the Bull’s case.
  • The US Supreme Court found for the Bulls.
    • US Supreme Court found that the Connecticut legislation was not an ex post facto law.
    • The Court distinguished criminal rights from private rights, arguing that restrictions against ex post facto laws were not designed to protect citizens’ contract rights.
    • The Court found that while all ex post facto laws are retrospective, all retrospective laws are not necessarily ex post facto. Even “vested” property rights are subject to retroactive laws.