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Eastern Enterprises v. Apfel


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524 U.S. 498 (1994), argued 4 March 1994, decided 25 June 1994 by vote of 5 to 4; O’Connor for the plurality; Kennedy, concurring in the judgment and dissenting in part; Stevens and Breyer in dissent. Eastern Enterprises considered whether a statute imposing a retroactive exaction of money on a former employer to shore up a coal industry retirement and health fund was unconstitutional, and whether the law should be analyzed under the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause or Due Process Clause. The plurality found the statute unconstitutional under the Takings Clause. The dissent deemed it constitutional under the Due Process Clause. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote, found the statute unconstitutional, but joined the dissent in using due process analysis.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor observed that the Coal Industry Retiree Health Benefit Act was an understandable solution to a significant funding problem, but added: “When, however, that solution singles out certain employers to bear a burden that is substantial in amount, based on the employers’ conduct far in the past, and unrelated to any commitment that the employers made or to any injury they caused, the governmental action implicates fundamental principles of fairness underlying the Takings Clause” (p. 537). Justice John Paul Stevens's dissent, on the other hand, emphasized that the legislation was reasonable and could have been anticipated in light of “an implicit understanding on both sides of the bargaining table that the operators would provide the miners with lifetime health benefits” (p. 551).

Justice Kennedy agreed with the plurality that the act was “arbitrary,” but asserted that, since its constitutionality “appears to turn on the legitimacy of Congress’ judgment rather than on the availability of compensation … the more appropriate constitutional analysis arises under general due process principles” (p. 545). He maintained that the Court's prior Takings Clause cases had involved alleged government arrogation of specific property interests, not the imposition of a general obligation to make payments (pp. 542–545).

Steven J. Eagle

Subjects: Law.


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