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10/26/90 RIGGS NATIONAL BANK WASHINGTON v. DISTRICT

October 26, 1990

RIGGS NATIONAL BANK OF WASHINGTON, D.C., APPELLANT
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLEE. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, CROSS-APPELLANT V. RIGGS NATIONAL BANK OF WASHINGTON, D.C., CROSS-APPELLEE



Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. Henry F. Greene, Trial Judge

Terry, Schwelb, and Farrell, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb

Remarkable as it may seem to those who must make ends meet and worry about the next mortgage payment and the price of widgets, there are actually people who neglect to cash cashier's checks. Others leave savings and checking accounts dormant at the bank. What happens to such funds when they are not claimed by their rightful owners? This case requires us to interpret for the first time various provisions of the Uniform Disposition of Unclaimed Property Act (hereinafter "the UPA" or the Act), D.C. Code §§ 42-201 to -242 (1990), which addresses that very question and attempts to resolve it in a manner favorable to the beleaguered taxpayers of our beautiful but financially strapped capital city.

The property at issue, which has a value of approximately $1.7 million, consists of dormant deposits which have no known owners or which belong to non-residents of the District, as well as funds deposited by customers to cover official checks which have not been presented for payment. *fn1 Appellant Riggs National Bank of Washington, D.C. (Riggs) holds certain funds alleged by the District of Columbia to be subject to the provisions of the Act and has declined to report and deliver them to the District despite a demand that Riggs do so. Following that refusal, the District filed this action in the Superior Court and prayed for an order directing Riggs to report and deliver the property and to pay pre-judgment interest and civil penalties. Riggs maintained below, and now contends in this court, that the disputed funds are not subject to the provisions of the Act. *fn2

Following a hearing on cross-motions for summary judgment, the trial Judge held that the UPA requires Riggs to report and deliver all of the disputed funds to the District. The Judge denied the District's request for pre-judgment interest and civil penalties. Both sides have appealed. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand the case for further proceedings.

I

THE DISPUTE

The basic facts are not in dispute. Following an audit authorized by Section 42-234(c)(1), *fn3 the District advised Riggs that Riggs was in possession of unclaimed property worth approximately 2.2 million dollars subject to reporting and delivery pursuant to the UPA. Riggs delivered a portion of the unclaimed property to the District, but withheld three categories of funds worth approximately 1.7 million dollars. *fn4

The first disputed category of assets has a value of approximately $880,000. It consists of roughly $780,000 in stale official checks issued by Riggs which have never been presented for payment, and approximately $100,000 in miscellaneous dormant funds belonging to unknown depositors. In the 1970's, before the UPA was enacted, Riggs closed out long-dormant items, converted them on its books to income, and used the money as its own. *fn5 Riggs contends that it has commingled these funds with its other assets and has paid taxes on them. Nevertheless, as a matter of good public relations, Riggs "absolutely" honors any occasional stale official check that may be presented for payment, and would not resist any attempt by the owner of a dormant deposit account to withdraw funds from it.

The second disputed group of funds consists of approximately $665,000 in unclaimed accounts which were deposited with Riggs by persons who do not live in the District. At the time this litigation began, the District had reciprocity agreements with eleven states *fn6 for the mutual exchange of abandoned property. See § 42-234. Riggs reported and delivered to the District all unclaimed property abandoned by any person whose last known address was in one of the eleven "reciprocity" States. The bank refused, however, to deliver abandoned funds deposited by anyone whose last known address was in one of the "non-reciprocity" States, including Maryland. Riggs acknowledges that it has no legal right to retain these funds for its own use and has not transferred them on its books to income. Riggs maintains, however, that before it can be required to deliver the property to the District pursuant to the Act, the District must satisfy a statutory condition precedent, namely that the non-reciprocity State does not have a superior claim to the funds. Riggs contends that no such showing has been made, and that if the condition precedent is not enforced, Riggs could be subject to multiple liability.

The third issue between the parties relates to service charges on inactive accounts. In March 1980, Riggs adopted a policy of imposing a semi-annual charge of eight dollars on each account under $50 which had remained dormant for a minimum of three years. During the next two years, Riggs collected a total of more than $117,000. *fn7 These collections completely depleted the funds in a number of the accounts. The District alleges that the imposition of these charges violated the UPA, and seeks to recover the amounts charged, as well as over $27,000 in additional interest which would have accrued on the affected accounts if Riggs had not imposed the disputed service charges.

II

THE STATUTE

Before the enactment of the UPA, depositary institutions in the District of Columbia enjoyed the use of, and often appropriated as their own, many millions of dollars in unclaimed deposits, stale official checks and other unclaimed property under a process which the trial Judge in this case aptly described as a "private escheat." In 1981, concluding that this state of affairs provided a "windfall" for these institutions, COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, COMMITTEE OF THE JUDICIARY, REPORT ON BILL No. 3-267, UNIFORM DISPOSITION OF UNCLAIMED PROPERTY ACT OF 1980 (hereinafter COMMITTEE REPORT) at 2, the Council of the District of Columbia enacted legislation designed to put an end to the unearned and fortuitous enrichment of the holders of abandoned property and to provide instead for the interests of the citizens of the District and ensure that any such escheat would be for public benefit rather than for private gain. *fn8 In the first section of the Act, the Council stated that the purpose of the UPA was to

mandate the report and delivery by holders and to authorize the receipt for safekeeping and fiscal growth by the District of Columbia of any and all personal property which is abandoned, without regard either to any maximum length of time for which such property was abandoned or to any statute limiting the right to sue to claim such property.

§ 42-201.

The sweeping language of this opening statutory salvo, which would embrace funds abandoned on the first day Riggs went into the banking business, bespeaks a remedial enactment designed to correct what the Council plainly viewed as an unjust status quo. The trial Judge recognized, and so do we, that courts are obligated to accord a generous construction to legislation of this kind. "Remedial statutes are liberally construed to suppress the evil and advance the remedy." 3 N. SINGER, SUTHERLAND, STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION § 60.01, at 55 (4th ed. 1986) (hereinafter SUTHERLAND); Tenants of 738 Longfellow St., N. W. v. District of Columbia Rental Hous. Comm'n, 575 A.2d 1205, 1211 (D.C. 1990).

Although its prime purpose was the one identified in the statutory declaration which we have quoted above, the UPA was also designed to protect the interests and rights of the true owners of abandoned property and to relieve holders of such property, such as banks, of the annoyance, administrative expense and liability incident to caring for it. COMMITTEE REPORT, supra, at 2. Property subject to the Act does not escheat to the District upon delivery. Rather, the District acts as a "conservator" and "assumes custody and responsibility for the safekeeping of the property" until the true owner makes a claim. §§ 42-201, -220; 9 DCMR § 3000.6 (1986).

The UPA requires private holders to report and deliver to the District all property which is "presumed abandoned." §§ 42-203, -217. The circumstances which give rise to a presumption of abandonment differ depending on the type of unclaimed property. See §§ 42-206 through -216. In general, property is presumed to be abandoned if it has remained unclaimed for a specified time period. With respect to the funds at issue in this case, that period is ten years. See § 42-206(a) and (d), discussed at page 11, (infra).

Abandoned accounts may have significant connections with more than one jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court has considered the question of priorities between state-claimants. See Texas v. New Jersey, 379 U.S. 674, 85 S. Ct. 626, 13 L. Ed. 2d 596 (1965). Contemplating the possibility of such competing claims, the UPA has created certain "conditions precedent" to the presumption of abandonment. § 42-204. These conditions precedent are discussed in some detail at pages 32-43, (infra), for they are central to one of the major issues disputed by the parties.

Finally, the UPA deals with abandoned property no matter how long ago it was abandoned and regardless of the applicability of any statute of limitations. See Section 42-201, quoted at pages 7-8, supra. Given this potential reach a long way back in time, one of the major issues which arose during the legislative consideration of the UPA was the extent, if any, to which the statute should apply retroactively to funds abandoned a great many years ago. In this regard, the Council sought to accommodate not only the remedial goals of the Act but also the legitimate expectations of the depositary institutions. The final section of the Act provides that

this chapter shall apply retroactively to all items of property which would have been presumed abandoned if this chapter had been in effect as of January 1, 1980. *fn9

§ 42-242. Counsel and the trial Judge have suggested different interpretations of this provision, which is not as simple as it seems at first blush to be, and we begin our analysis with a consideration of their respective views.

III

THE RETROACTIVITY ISSUE

Joined by the Washington Area Bankers Association (WABA) as amicus curiae, Riggs contends that the UPA, which became effective on March 5, 1981, was intended to apply only to those funds which it was still treating as abandoned property on its books as of January 1, 1980. Riggs says that those obligations on official checks and those dormant accounts which it had closed and converted into income prior to that date are not subject to the Act and need not be reported or delivered to the District. Riggs so argues even though the existence and precise amount of these funds was capable of being determined as of January 1, 1980, and in spite of the fact that Riggs routinely honors demands for payment by the holders of such checks and by the original owners of these accounts.

The trial Judge ruled that the District's rights under the UPA did not depend on how the disputed funds were carried on the bank's books. He held that all funds identifiable as of January 1, 1980 as having been unclaimed for the requisite period were subject to reporting and delivery whether or not the bank had transferred them to income. We agree with the trial Judge.

A. The Statutory Language.

"In interpreting a statute, we are mindful of the maxim that we must look first to its language; if the words are clear and unambiguous, we must give effect to its plain meaning." J. Parreco & Son v. District of Columbia Rental Hous. Comm'n, 567 A.2d 43, 45 (D.C. 1989) (citations omitted). "The words used [in the statute], even in their literal sense, are the primary, and ordinarily the most reliable, source of interpreting the meaning of any writing." Id. at 46 (quoting Cabell v. Markham, 148 F.2d 737, 739 (2d. Cir.) (per Learned Hand, J.), aff'd, 326 U.S. 404, 66 S. Ct. 193, 90 L. Ed. 165 (1945)). Although "it is one of the surest indexes of a mature and developed jurisprudence not to make a fortress out of the dictionary," Parreco, supra, 567 A.2d at 46 (quoting Cabell, supra, 148 F.2d at 739), it is useful to have one around.

Section 42-242 applies retroactively to all property which would have been "presumed abandoned" if this chapter had been in effect on January 1, 1980. The words "presumed abandoned" do not lack statutory definition. Dormant bank deposits and unclaimed official checks are presumed abandoned if the owner has taken no meaningful action with respect to them, or otherwise shown interest in them for a period of ten years. See § 42-206(a) (bank deposits), § 42-206(d) (official checks). It is undisputed that the requisite decade of inactivity had elapsed with respect to the disputed deposits and official checks. Moreover, Riggs' general ledger contained an inventory of "stale-dated" official bank checks, with all important data included; the deposits were likewise readily identifiable.

There is nothing in the language of the statute which suggests that the presumption that such dormant deposits and unclaimed official checks have been abandoned is affected in any way either by the date when the bank received them or by the manner in which they are carried on the bank's books. *fn10 The trial Judge expressed the view that the statute "makes perfectly clear what the status of those funds should be," namely, that they were covered. Although clarity in statutes is often in the eye of the beholder and perfection a rare commodity indeed, we agree that the most reasonable construction of the words "presumed abandoned" is that the disputed funds fall within them.

"Presumed abandoned", however, are not the only words that appear in Section 42-242. That section provides that the Act shall "apply retroactively" to items which would have been presumed abandoned on January 1, 1980. The word "retroactively" was surely inserted into the statute for a reason; the section adds something which would not otherwise be there. The inclusion of this adverb suggests, at least, that something was being covered retroactively that would otherwise not have been reached; in other words, but for the existence of Section 42-242, some funds potentially subject to the Act in 1980 would no longer have been covered in 1981. It is Riggs' theory that the effect of Section 42-242 was to render any conversion of dormant funds into income on the bank's books alter January 1, 1980 ineffective to defeat the reach of the Act, but that any such conversion prior to that date effectively changed what was previously "abandoned property" into Riggs' property, which was now commingled with other assets and therefore non-existent as a separate entity for purposes of the Act. If funds received in prior years were "converted to income" during the 1970's, according to Riggs and WABA, they are not subject to the UPA.

In support of the contention that the disputed property was no longer "presumed abandoned," Riggs and WABA rely heavily on the legislative history of the retroactivity provision. Section 13(g) of an earlier (but never enacted) version of the UPA, introduced by then Council Chairman Arrington Dixon, would have provided that

the initial report filed under this act shall include all items of property that would have been presumed abandoned if this act had been in effect during the ten-year period preceding its effective date.

(Emphasis added). Representatives of the banking community were troubled by this provision, and expressed their concerns to Councilman David Clarke, who was then Chairman of the Council's Committee on the Judiciary. On August 12, 1980, Mr. Clarke advised the banking representatives that "the latest print of the bill has been revised to incorporate the constructive suggested changes made by the interested commentators." Apparently as a result of the contacts to which Chairman Clarke was alluding, Section 13 (g) of the Dixon bill was replaced by Section 42-242 of the UPA as enacted. A retroactivity period of fourteen months was thus substituted for the contemplated ten-year period in the earlier version.

Riggs and WABA contend that the trial court's construction of Section 42-242 renders meaningless the Council's substantial reduction of the period of retroactivity originally proposed by Chairman Dixon. According to WABA,

under the court's reasoning, the statute would have precisely the same effect even if it did not contain Section 242, or if the date in that section had been January 1, 1920, January 1, 1880, or any other date one might pick. On the court's theory, Section 242 and the date it specifies add nothing and change nothing. So far from being dictated by Section 242, the court's ruling renders Section 242 meaningless.

Statutory provisions must be presumed to have been enacted for a purpose. District of Columbia v. Acme Reporting Co., 530 A.2d 708, 713 (D.C. 1987). . . . That Section [42-]242 was intended to have a purpose is emphasized by the significant attention that the issue of retroactivity received during the legislative process. As originally introduced, the draft Act contained a 10-year retroactivity provision. As a result of concerns expressed by the banks, this was shortened to a little over one year, as provided in the present Section [42-]242.

[WABA brief at 7; emphasis in original].

Riggs and WABA also invite our attention to the Discussion of Section 42-242 in the report of the Judiciary Committee. The Committee stated that under the terms of that Section,

there is no need to reconstruct bank accounts, for example, prior to [January 1, 1980]. Extremely old abandoned accounts would be reportable and deliverable in the amount they were in on January 1, 1980.

COMMITTEE REPORT, (supra) , at 40 (emphasis added). According to Riggs and WABA, this means that old accounts which had been closed out by Riggs and transferred to income are not covered by the Act, because they did not exist on January 1, 1980, and "the amount they were in" was therefore zero.

We cannot say that these arguments are wholly implausible. Nevertheless, we reject them for two primary reasons. First, if the Council had meant what the bank and bankers now say it meant, it surely could have said so. Second, we are not prepared to believe that a legislature with broad and sweeping reform on its mind, which boldly described its purpose as being to require the reporting and delivery to the District of "any and all" property abandoned since the beginning of time, could have intended to make coverage dependent on the manner in which a bank characterized relevant property on its books.

According to WABA, "the banks' concern was that the Act not reach property that had been taken into income in the past, and that the bill before the Council was amended to meet that concern." *fn11 WABA brief at 9. If that is true, then it would surely not have been difficult for the representatives of the banking community to devise, or for the Council to adopt, statutory language that clearly effected such an intention, or at least conveyed to the reader that this is what the legislature probably intended. See Superior Beverages, Inc. v. District of Columbia Alcoholic Beverage Control Bd., 567 A.2d 1319, 1323 (D.C. 1989) ("such a policy would not be difficult to articulate forthrightly, clearly, and directly"). Given the broad sweep of the overture to our statutory opera, which spells out coverage of all abandoned funds regardless of the date of abandonment or the expiration of any limitation period, and in light of the Council's obvious concern about windfalls and the equities, one would expect that if the final chorus were designed to defer or attenuate the demise of such windfalls, it would be cast in no uncertain terms, so that a reviewing court could not miss the striking change in tone and direction.

Second, Riggs and WABA ascribe to the Council an intention to allow coverage to turn not on reality but on the bank's paper treatment of reality. Under the interpretation of Section 42-242 for which it argues, Riggs, which transferred the affected funds to income prior to January 1, 1980, would be protected from the requirements of the Act. A bank which had kept the old accounts alive on its books a little longer, however, would be required to deliver them to the District. This result would obtain even where the relevant information was equally available with respect to both institutions, so that there was no need to reconstruct or recompute old accounts. We might be persuaded that this was the rule which the Council intended to enact if it had said so plainly, but it did not.

B. The Trial Judge's Decision.

Contrary to WABA's contention that under the trial Judge's interpretation of Section 42-242, January 1, 1980 might as well have been January 1, 1880 or any date in between, see pages [10-11], (supra) , we think the Judge recognized that the Council had taken meaningful action when it rejected Section 13(g) of the Dixon bill and then adopted Section 42-242 as it now reads, and that he gave the section as a whole, and the selection of January 1, 1980 in particular, a significant effect. The Judge held that the retroactivity provision as enacted did not eliminate the obligation of local banks to report and deliver "any and all personal property which is abandoned," as required by Section 42-201. Rather, it affected only the amount of money which the District is entitled to recover. The Dixon version, as the Judge viewed it, would have required banks to report and deliver to the District all abandoned accounts in the amounts which they "were" ten years preceding the enactment of the UPA.

As a result, the banks would have been obliged to go back at least ten years, see note 16, (infra), credit deducted service charges, apply accrued interest, and re-create old balances. A survey of dormant accounts in national banks of the District of Columbia, relied on by the Council, showed that between 1974 and 1979 an average of nearly $150,000 in annual service charges had been imposed on dormant savings and demand accounts. Under section 42-242 as enacted, the banks were forgiven these charges and spared the laborious task of re-computing old balances.

We think that the Judge's view finds support in the relationship between Sections 42-206 and 42-242 of the UPA. Section 42-206 (e) prohibits the imposition by banks of service charges on dormant accounts unless certain enumerated criteria are satisfied. See Discussion at pages 44-55, (infra). Specifically, Section 42-206 (e)(3) requires that, for dormant accounts containing more than ten dollars, the bank must provide the owner with notice that a service charge has been deducted. Section 42-206 (e)(3) states, however, that

notice provided in this section need not be given with respect to charges imposed or accrued or interest ceased prior to January 1, 1980.

(Emphasis added). According to the Judiciary Committee,

subsection (e) read in conjunction with section [242] of this bill has prospective effect from January 1, 1980. That is, service charges levied before January 1, 1980 need not be reported or delivered to the Mayor.

COMMITTEE REPORT, (supra) , at 16 (emphasis added). The Committee also observed that Section 42-242 does not require holders to "reconstruct" extremely old abandoned bank accounts because such accounts would be reportable in "the amount they were in" as of January 1, 1980. Id. at 40. In other words, old abandoned accounts are subject to reporting and delivery, and the cut-off date of January 1, 1980 serves as the date as of which their value is to be assessed. In light of the Committee's allusion to such old accounts as being reportable in some amount, the Act obviously reaches property that came into Riggs' possession prior to January 1, 1980.

We are of the opinion that the Judge's reading of Section 42-242 as not affecting the duty to report and deliver the disputed funds, but only the amounts in which they must be reported and delivered, is more in keeping than Riggs' construction with the language of the Act, with its remedial character, and with the somewhat "Delphic" Discussion *fn12 of the subject in the COMMITTEE REPORT.

C. The Statute of Limitations.

Riggs contends that even if Section 42-242 is construed as sustaining coverage with respect to property which had been transferred to income prior to January 1, 1980, the Act may not lawfully operate to revive claims that were barred by the statute of limitations prior to the enactment of the UPA. *fn13 This contention is predicated both on statutory and on constitutional grounds. Relying on Section 42-241, which provides that the Act shall be construed to "effectuate its general purpose to make uniform the law with respect to the subject of this chapter among those states enacting it," Riggs cites decisions from California, Illinois and Alabama holding that, in the absence of a clear expression to the contrary, the UPA should not be construed to apply to property as to which the limitations period expired prior to its enactment. Riggs also claims that the trial Judge's construction of the Act deprives it of property without due process of law.

(1) Uniformity of construction.

In support of its uniformity argument, Riggs relies on Douglas Aircraft Co. v. Cranston, 58 Cal. 2d 462, 374 P.2d 819, 24 Cal. Rptr. 851 (1962) (en banc) (per Traynor, J.) and three later decisions which have adopted the reasoning of that case and reached the same result. *fn14 In Douglas, the court was construing a statute which, like Section 42-229 (a) in our own Act, provided that the expiration of the statute of limitations "shall not prevent the money or property from being presumed abandoned property" or affect the holder's duty to report or deliver it. Rejecting the contrary claim of the State Controller, the court held that

this section does not expressly provide that it shall be retroactive or apply to claims that were already barred when it was enacted. Accordingly, under section 3 of the code *fn15 . . . it must be interpreted as applying only to claims on which the statute of limitations had not run on the effective date of the Act,

Id. at , 374 P.2d at 822.

We would have no reluctance in following Judge Traynor's characteristically well-reasoned opinion if our own statutory framework were the same as that in California, Illinois and Alabama, but it is not. Aside from Section 42-229, which is substantially identical to the California provision construed in Douglas (and to comparable provisions in Illinois and Alabama), our Section 42-201 provides that the District's UPA applies to

any and all personal property which is abandoned, without regard to any maximum length of time for which such property was abandoned or to any statute [of limitations].

(Emphasis added). The italicized language, as we have noted, means that "the bill properly reaches back to authorize transfer to the District of all mentioned property which has been unclaimed for the defined minimum number of years or longer." COMMITTEE REPORT, (supra) , at 10 (emphasis added). By its terms, Section 42-201 embraces property abandoned for a hundred years, and the statute of limitations expired on such property a very long time ago. Accordingly, we think that the express provision found lacking in Douglas is present here. *fn16

The Judiciary Committee was aware of the Douglas case and of the Knight *fn17 decision in which the Supreme Court of Illinois followed Douglas; both cases are cited in the legislative history. Id. at 31. Immediately after that Discussion, the Report continues:

Even where the statute of limitations has run on the property prior to the effective date of the act, if the holder does not enforce the statute against the owner it must report and deliver the property to the state. See South Carolina Tax Commission v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., 266 S.C. 34, 221 S.E.2d 522 (1975).

Id. The Report then refers the reader back to the earlier Discussion of the reach of the Act:

Section 101 also makes clear that holders are required to report and deliver such property to the Mayor without regard to the District's statute of limitations (D.C. Code sec. 12-301) lest there be any confusion in that regard.

Id. at 10.

With a statute that by its terms covers property abandoned for a century or a millennium, legislative history which at least arguably rejects the applicability of the Douglas line of cases, and a bank which does not enforce the statute against original owners, *fn18 we do not believe that Riggs' plea for uniformity of interpretation can prevail; dissimilar statutes are not to be similarly construed.

(2) Constitutionality.

Riggs contends that the UPA, as construed by the trial Judge, deprives it of property without due process of law in violation of the Fifth Amendment. WABA has added two refinements. First, it says that application of the statute to funds with respect to which the statute of limitations had expired prior to its enactment constitutes a taking of Riggs' property for public use without just compensation. Second, citing United States v. Security Indus. Bank, 459 U.S. 70, 79-82, 103 S. Ct. 407, 74 L. Ed. 2d 235 (1982), WABA contends that Section 42-242 should be construed in such a way as to avoid creating what WABA describes as a serious constitutional problem; Riggs joins in this claim. We find all of these constitutional and related contentions to be unpersuasive.

This court recently reiterated its Disposition to refrain from striking down allegedly unwise legislation in the absence of a clear conflict with the language of the Constitution. Hornstein v. Barry, 560 A.2d 530 (D.C. 1989) (en banc). We recognized in Hornstein that a court "usurps legislative functions when it presumes to adJudge a law void where the repugnancy between the law and the Constitution is not established beyond reasonable doubt." Id. at 533 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). In language apposite to the present controversy, we stated that "laws adjusting the burdens and benefits of economic life come to the courts with a presumption of constitutionality, and one complaining of a due process violation must establish that the legislature acted in an arbitrary and irrational way." Id. at 533-34 (citation omitted). Lip service to the presumption of constitutionality will not do, and Riggs must make a "very compelling showing indeed" to overcome it. Id. at 534.

The decision on which Riggs principally relies is Chase Secs. Corp. v. Donaldson, 325 U.S. 304, 65 S. Ct. 1137, 89 L. Ed. 1628 (1945). That case is not helpful to its cause. As the Supreme Court stated in Chase,

in Campbell v. Holt, [115 U.S. 620, 6 S. Ct. 209, 29 L. Ed. 483 (1885)] this Court held that where lapse of time has not invested a party with title to real or personal property, a state legislature, consistently with the Fourteenth Amendment, may repeal or extend a statute of limitations, even alter right of action is barred thereby, restore to the plaintiff his remedy, and divest the defendant of the statutory bar. This has long stood as a statement of the law of the Fourteenth Amendment, and we agree with the court below that its holding is applicable here and fatal to the contentions of appellant.

Id. at 311-12. In Chase, the Court expressly declined an invitation to reconsider Campbell, which had established the same proposition in no uncertain terms. *fn19 The Court recognized that "some rules of law probably could not be changed retroactively without hardship and oppression," 325 U.S. at 315, and that it might be possible to manipulate a statute of limitations in a way which would offend the Constitution. Id. at 315-16. To restore a remedy lost through mere lapse of time, however, does not violate due process in the absence of a showing of "special hardships or oppressive effects." Id. at 316 (emphasis added).

As the Judiciary Committee recognized in its comments on the UPA, it is

well established that the District's statute of limitations vests no property rights. Conversely, it is a statute of repose. Hall v. District of Columbia, 47 App. D.C. 552 (1918). The statute of limitations here extinguishes only a claimant's remedy by withdrawing from the claimant the privilege of using the courts to enforce a right, but it does not extinguish the right of ownership itself. Cafritz v. Koslow, 83 U.S. App. D.C. 212, 214, 167 F.2d 749 (1948).

COMMITTEE REPORT, (supra) , at 10. Accordingly, Riggs had no constitutionally protected expectation which Section 42-242, as construed by the trial court, could or did impair.

We are also unable to discern in the present case anything even approaching a "special hardship" or an "oppressive effect." To put a belated end to a multi-million dollar windfall is not an act of oppression, and Riggs suffers no hardship. Rather, the result for which Riggs contends would amount to "the attempted interposition of the defendant's private escheat law is clearly opposed to the spirit and essence of the public custodial escheat law and to the broad public policy represented thereby." State v. Jefferson Lake Sulphur Co., 36 N.J. 577, , 178 A.2d 329, 338-39, cert. denied, 370 U.S. 158, 82 S. Ct. 1253, 8 L. Ed. 2d 402 (1962). It would preserve for several more years "a private escheat law whereby the holder rather than the state would enjoy the benefit of the unclaimed property." People v. Marshall Field & Co., 83 Ill. App. 3d 811, , ...


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