Doctrine of Vested Rights Law and Legal Definition

Doctrine of vested rights as applied in constitutional law protects a person, who won a legal decision, from a legislature seeking to overturn the decision. This was first announced in McCullough v. Virginia, 172 U.S. 102 (U.S. 1898) wherein the court held “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.”

The doctrine of vested rights also protects property owners and developers from changes in zoning when they have received a valid building permit and have completed substantial construction and made substantial expenditures in reliance on the permit. This doctrine allows the owner or developer to proceed in accordance with the prior zoning provision as they have vested rights to a validly issued permit.