Legislation May Not Extinguish a Cause of Action That Has Accrued
In Ieropoli v. AC&S Corporation, 577 Pa. 138, 842 A.2d 919 (2004), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed the issue whether subsequent legislation that extinguished a party's cause of action was unconstitutional:
We begin with the meaning of the phrase 'cause of action'.
As we have stated in other cases, the phrase does not have a single definition, and means different things depending on context . . . . In this case, 'cause of action' relates to remedy.
It is the vehicle by which a person secures redress from another person for the consequences of an event that is a legal injury . . . . Moreover, as we have seen, a cause of action that has accrued takes on an even greater meaning.
It is a vested right, which under Article 1, Section 11, may not be eliminated by subsequent legislation. . . .
In light of these principles, the violation of Article 1, Section 11 that the Statute's application occasions in this case is clear.
Before the Statute's enactment, each cause of action that Appellants brought against Crow Cork was a remedy-it was the vehicle by which Appellants lawfully pursued redress, in the form of damages, from Crown Cork for an alleged legal injury.
But under the Statute, Appellants cannot obligate Crown Cork to pay them damages on those causes of action.
In this way, each cause of action has been stripped of its remedial significance, as it can no longer function as a means by which Appellants may secure redress from Crown Cork.
As a remedy, each cause of action has been, in essence, extinguished.
Under Article 1, Section 11, however, a statute may not extinguish a cause of action that has accrued. Therefore, as Appellants' causes of action accrued before the Statute was enacted, we hold that the Statute's application to Appellants' cause of action is unconstitutional under Article 1, Section 11. Ieropoli, 577 Pa. at 155-56, 842 A.2d at 929-30.
The case involved a statute which limited asbestos-related liabilities of corporations that arose out of mergers or consolidations.
The statute expressly applied to pending lawsuits.
A machinist with a pending asbestos suit challenged the constitutionality of the statute, which had the effect of shielding one of the defendants from liability.
On appeal from the trial court's dismissal of the defendant, the Supreme Court reversed.
It held that under the Remedies Clause, a cause of action that has accrued is a vested right which may not be eliminated by subsequent legislation. Konidaris, 884 A.2d at 353.