occurring during the window period established by the MPPAA.
According to defendant Margolis, the enactment of Section 558 eliminates any potential liability in this case and justifies the immediate dismissal of this action. Plaintiffs argue that Section 558 cannot be applied in a fashion that would "effectively nullify" the final judgment of this Court. The Court will now turn to these arguments.
Congressional Authority to Modify Federal Court Jurisdiction
The debate over congressional authority vis-a-vis the federal courts has raised some difficult and controversial questions in recent times. See e.g., Sager, Foreword: Constitutional Limitations on Congress' Authority to Regulate the Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, 95 Harv. L. Rev. 17 (1981); Redish, Constitutional Limitations on Congressional Power to Control Federal Jurisdiction: A Reaction to Professor Sager, 77 Nev. U. L. Rev. 143 (1982). Fortunately, the issues posed by this case follow a better-worn path of precedent.
It has been established, at least since United States v. Klein, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 128, 20 L. Ed. 519 (1871), that Article III of the Constitution places some limits on congressional authority to intrude on the decisional independence of the judiciary. In particular, Klein holds that Congress may not enact jurisdictional limitations in order to control or reverse the results in a particular case.
This principle of separation was clearly enunciated by this Circuit in Daylo v. Administrator of Veterans Affairs, 163 U.S. App. D.C. 251, 501 F.2d 811 (D.C. Cir. 1974). In Daylo, the plaintiff, a veteran's widow had her statutory benefits cancelled because of a Veterans Administration (V.A.) finding that she had not met her administrative burden of proving that she had "not remarried."
Under the law in effect prior to 1962 the term widow was defined by statute as a "woman who was the wife of a veteran . . . and who has not remarried. . . ." 38 U.S.C. § 101(3). The V.A. followed an administrative practice of shifting the burden of proof on the issue of remarriage to any "widow" who was living with another man. This practice was not approved by this Court. See Daylo at 813.
In 1962 Congress amended the V.A. statute to provide that a "widow" would be ineligible for benefits if she "lived with another man and held herself out openly to the public to be the wife of such other man." Act of Sept. 19, 1962, Pub. L. 87-674, 76 Stat. 558 (amending 38 U.S.C. § 101(3)). This bright-line rule went beyond the V.A. practice of merely shifting the burden on the "remarriage" issue to widows who lived with other men. However, the statute was given only prospective application.
In 1969, Mrs. Daylo filed her suit in this Court, seeking to compel payment of the benefits that had been denied her since 1951. In 1970, the District Court entered judgment for Mrs. Daylo for all benefits payable prior to September 19, 1962, the effective date of the amendment discussed above.
This partial summary judgment had become final and unappealable by the time the V.A. statute was amended again by the Act of August 12, 1970, Pub. L. 91-376, 84 Stat. 787. The 1970 amendments made two crucial changes in the existing law. First, it provided that there would be no payment of benefits "because of a widow's relationship with another man before enactment of [the 1962 amendments]" that would not have been payable by the V.A. under the "standard for determining remarriage applied by that agency before said enactment." 38 U.S.C. § 3111. This language ratified the V.A.'s burden shifting rule and, in effect, reversed the judicial rule of decision in Mrs. Daylo's case. Second, the 1970 amendments retroactively reversed the jurisdictional position of the District of Columbia Circuit by making clear that the decision of the V.A. was absolutely unreviewable.
The V.A. claimed that the new act, 38 U.S.C. § 211(a), conflicted with Mrs. Daylo's judgment both by "retroactively withdrawing the jurisdiction of the court" and by providing a rule for determining remarriage "directly contrary" to that applied by the District Court. Daylo at 815. The court refused to accept the V.A.'s reading of the statute, noting that any attempt "to upset final judgments" would present a serious constitutional dilemma." Id. at 816.
The court then quoted the "long standing" rule in such cases:
It is not within the power of a legislature to take away rights which have been once vested by a judgment. Legislation may act on subsequent proceedings, may abate actions pending, but when those actions have passed into judgment the power of the legislature to disturb the rights created thereby ceases.