In a widely watched case now before the US Supreme Court, the position of Democrat Joe Biden’s Department of Justice in a property rights dispute has not impressed the justices.
Damage to a forest road, a dispute over easement conditions, and a question regarding the statute of limitations for quiet title claims are at issue in the dispute between two US residents and the US Government.
According to the Pacific Legal Foundation, “Wil Wilkins and Jane Stanton are two neighbors living near a Montana national forest who just want peace and privacy. Wil and Jane recognize that the U.S. Forest Service and specific permit holders (like loggers and ranchers) have the right to cross their property to get to the forest, and they were happy with that limited activity. But after the Forest Service opened the road to the public—violating the decades-old easement agreement—Wil and Jane’s refuge in Bitterroot National Forest was disturbed by hunting, traffic hazards, noise, theft, and trespassing. Wil’s cat was even shot, but fortunately, the cat survived.
The U.S. Forest Service should not be allowed to pull a bait-and-switch that severely hampers Wil and Jane’s ability to enjoy their private property.”
During previous hearings on the subject, the judges voiced skepticism and asked the Biden administration difficult questions.
“Justices appeared skeptical of the Justice Department’s argument that property owners couldn’t bring a case against the government because of a 12-year limit on when a lawsuit could be filed. The case, Wilkins v. United States, involves a road leading to the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana, on which the Forest Service had an easement allowing for public access,” SCOTUS Blog reported.
“But two property owners say it was rarely used for that purpose until the agency in 2006 posted a sign on the road — ‘public access thru private lands’ — that attracted more visitors, who trespassed on their land and, in one instance, shot an owner’s cat. Assistant to the Solicitor General Ben Snyder took some of the most spirited questioning, including from Justice Elena Kagan, who dove into the government’s interpretation of drive-by statements in past cases to argue that the 12-year statute of limitations should preclude the complaint,” the outlet added.
“Unless we have a clear statement that that was what was litigated, why would we try to give stare decisis to issues that weren’t identified by the court?” Kagan asked Snyder.
Martin Walsh reported Conservative Brief, citing more details from the report:
But landowners Larry “Wil” Wilkins and Jane Stanton, represented by the property rights-focused law shop Pacific Legal Foundation, faced skepticism too, including from Chief Justice John Roberts, who pointed to a case earlier this year — Boechler v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, which dealt with tax document deadlines — that suggested “12 years is 12 years, and you don’t get beyond that” in bringing legal action.
The government contends that a federal statute known as the Quiet Title Act imposes a 12-year statute of limitations on lawsuits filed against it for using or changing property. Lower courts concurred, but the case’s elevation to the Supreme Court implies that Congress may not have meant the 12-year restriction to be so stringent in every circumstance.
More on this story via The Republic Brief:
Prior owners of the land had negotiated an easement with the Forest Service in 1962, and the government has said the new owners — who came along in 1990 and 2004 — should have been aware of the government’s claim. The property owners sued in 2018, saying the Forest Service’s placement of the sign in 2006 essentially reset the clock on the statute of limitations. CONTINUE READING…