SOHN V. WATERSON, 84 U. S. 596 (1873)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Sohn v. Waterson, 84 U.S. 17 Wall. 596 596 (1873)

Sohn v. Waterson

84 U.S. (17 Wall.) 596


In construing a statute of limitations, it must, so far as it affects rights of action in existence when the statute is passed, be held, in the absence of contrary provision, to begin when the cause of action is first subjected to its operation.

Hence, when a right of action accrued in 1851 and a statute of limitations passed in 1859 barred all actions of its kind not "commenced within two years next after the cause or right of such action shall have accrued," held that the cause of action began to run from the date of the statute, and that suit might have been brought any time within two years from that date, and accordingly that the statute had not summarily cut off existing rights, thus making itself unconstitutional.

In 1854, one Sohn, a citizen of Ohio, obtained a judgment in one of the courts of the state named against a certain

Page 84 U. S. 597

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 10, 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. "

Page 84 U. S. 598

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