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Civil Procedure Fall 2014

Case Note: Guaranty Trust

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Excerpt from “Substance” and “Procedure” in the Rules Enabling Act by Paul D. Carrington

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The Characterization of Limitations Law.

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Limitations law is famously a body of rules that are neither grass nor hay, being at once both substantive and procedural. In one sense, limitations law is clearly procedural—a sibling or at least a cousin to summary judgment. It is a means of clearing dockets, of protecting both the court and the defendant from waste, and of protecting the defendant from the unjust coercion that can result simply from the threat of waste. It is also a crude means of evaluating proof, a device to protect fact finders from being beguiled by stale and, therefore, suspect proof. Statutes of limitations “discourage litigation by burying in one receptacle all the accumulations of past times, which are unexplained; and have now, from time to time become inexplicable.” They are a tool of judicial administration and an allocation of scarce judicial resources, and thus in classical American conflicts dogma are characterized as procedural.

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In another sense, however, limitations law is substantive. Repose is a social and political value with economic consequences. Limitations law is thus a means of healing and stabilizing relationships. It reduces the general level of stress and anxiety, protecting even plaintiffs from the self-injuries that result when resentments are nourished for too long. Limitations “quicken diligence by making it in some measure equivalent to right.” They also facilitate and induce economic planning and development. These effects of limitations law occur outside the courthouse and have no bearing on the quality or accuracy of judicial proceedings. To the extent that these considerations are paramount, limitations law can be characterized as substantive.

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Paul D. Carrington, "Substance" and "Procedure" in the Rules Enabling Act, 1989 Duke L.J. 281, 290 (1989) (Footnotes omitted).