Eakin v. Raub

Following is the case brief for Eakin v. Raub, 12 Sergeant & Rawle 330 (Pa. 1825)

Case Summary of Eakin v. Raub:

  • Plaintiffs sued to eject defendants from land.  The trial court found for defendants, finding that a change in the relevant statute of limitations barred plaintiffs’ action.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed and ordered a new trial.
  • In dicta, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court expressly adopted the concept of judicial review from Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803) — whereby the judiciary may strike down a law that is inconsistent with the constitution — in the state context.
  • In dissent, Justice Gibson provided one of the finest rebuttals to Chief Justice Marshall’s reasoning in Marbury.  Justice Gibson maintained that the constitution does not expressly give the judiciary the power to void laws duly passed by the legislature.  Rather, the people possess the ultimate power to pressure their representatives to repeal offensive acts of the legislature.  That political process should not be circumvented or appropriated by the judiciary.

Eakin v. Raub Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

Plaintiffs (Eakin and others) filed an action to eject defendants (Raub and others) from four lots of land.  Plaintiffs, who lived overseas, claimed that they had title to the lots through a will. Defendants argued that plaintiffs’ claim to the land was barred by a change in the relevant statute of limitations, which changed the amount of time a party living overseas could claim ownership of land.  Plaintiffs, in response, urged that defendants’ reading of the statute of limitations would be unconstitutional.

Procedural History:

The trial court held for defendants.  The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Issue and Holding:

Was plaintiffs’ action barred by a change in the statute of limitations, which resulted in plaintiffs’ being deprived ownership of the land in question?  No.

Judgment:

The trial court’s decision is reversed, and a new trial is ordered.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

A change in the statute of limitations should not be read retroactively as that would immediately deprive plaintiffs of their rights, which violates the principles of natural justice.

Reasoning:

  • The change in law should be read prospectively.

It would be unfair to find that a party living overseas who had a valid ownership interest in land immediately lost that interest the moment the legislature passed a change to the statute of limitations.  Accordingly, the change in the law should be read prospectively, and plaintiffs’ action is not barred by the new statute of limitations.

  • Agreeing with Marbury v. Madison.

With regard to plaintiffs’ argument that defendants’ reading of the statute of limitations would render it unconstitutional, the majority does not subscribe to defendants’ reading and, thus, need not decide the constitutional question.  However, if the court was called upon to do so, it would fully adopt the concept of judicial review articulated in Marbury v. Madison.  In other words, judges are duty bound to declare legislation void that violates the U.S. or Pennsylvania constitutions because the constitution is the only legitimate source of a government’s power.

Dissenting Opinion (Gibson):

  • The change in the law need not be prospective.

The legislature gave no indication that the change should not be read retroactively.  Therefore, the majority is wrong to create an intent that is not obviously there.

Given the majority’s acceptance of judicial review, it is important to discuss the weakness of Chief Justice John Marshall’s argument in Marbury v. Madison, upon which the concept of judicial review depends.  There can be no question that the constitution is the supreme law. Accordingly, any act of the legislature must necessarily give way to the constitution if the two are in conflict.  However, it is a fallacy to conclude that the conflict is before the judiciary. Nothing in the constitution gives the judiciary such power.

The judiciary is tasked with interpreting the law, not usurping the legislative power by evaluating the authority of the legislature.  The legislature should, at the very least, have an equal right to determine what law is deemed consistent with the constitution.  Any error in that regard is the full responsibility of the legislature.

Accordingly, the people — where absolute sovereign power resides — have the power to correct errors by the legislature.  The courts do not have such power.  The people should be allowed to tell their representatives to repeal unwanted laws, or laws that do not comport with what the framers of the constitution intended.

Significance:

The significance of Eakin v. Raub comes not from its facts or holding, but in Justice Gibson’s dissent regarding judicial review.  And that significance cannot be overstated.  Justice Gibson’s strong, essentially contemporaneous, rebuttal to the concept of judicial review in Marbury reveals the tenuous footing on which Chief Justice Marshall’s reasoning in Marbury stands. Indeed, the debate may reveal the reality that Chief Justice Marshall was more concerned with giving the judiciary greater prominence by making judicial review a part of the American political system, rather than adhering to the text of the Constitution.

Student Resources:

https://web.utk.edu/~scheb/decisions/eakin.html

http://polazzo.com/Eakin.pdf

http://law.jrank.org/pages/25192/Eakin-v-Raub-Significance.html

https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/164813/04_01_Clinton.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

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