Calder v. Bull

Following is the case brief for Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. 386 (1798)

Case Summary of Calder v. Bull:

  • A probate court denied the Bulls inheritance, allowing Calder to inherit instead.
  • The Connecticut legislature then passed a resolution, allowing for a new probate trial and right of appeal.
  • Calder argued that the resolution violated the Constitution’s prohibition on ex post facto laws.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court held that the ex post facto provision only applies to criminal case, not civil ones.

Calder v. Bull Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

Mr. and Mrs. Bull were denied inheritance by a Connecticut probate court even though they were named beneficiaries under Norman Morrison’s will.  They attempted to appeal the decision over 18 months later and learned that state law did not permit them to appeal after 18 months of the original ruling.

The Bulls then persuaded the Connecticut legislature to pass a resolution so they could successfully appeal their case.

Procedural History:

  • The Connecticut legislature ordered a new trial for the Bulls.
  • The first inheritor of Morrison’s estate, Calder, brought the case to the Supreme Court.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case on error from the State of Connecticut.

Issue and Holding:

Did the Connecticut legislature, by passing the resolution, violate the constitutional provision prohibiting ex post facto laws?  No.


The Connecticut legislation is constitutional.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

The ex post facto clause in the Constitution applies to criminal, not civil, cases.


The ex post facto clause of the Constitution applies to criminal laws in four respects:  (i) when previously innocent conduct is made criminal; (ii) when the gravity of a criminal law is increased; (iii) when the punishment of a criminal law is increased; (iv) when the type of evidence needed to convict is changed.

But there is a distinction between criminal rights and “private rights.”  Ex post facto laws were not designed to protect a citizen’s contract rights.  Therefore, ex post facto laws only apply to criminal laws.

Concurring and Dissenting Opinion:

Concurring Opinion (Iredell): 

The legislative or judicial act of the Connecticut legislature is not regulated by the Constitution in this case.


Calder v. Bull is significant because it is still good law in that the ex post facto provision only applies to criminal cases.

Student Resources:

Read the Full Court Opinion