On Wednesday, November 30, PLF attorney Jeffrey McCoy argued Wilkins v. USA at the Supreme Court. Montana neighbors Wil Wilkins and Jane Stanton have been trying to protect their remote forest homes after the U.S. Forest Service opened their small private road to the public, in violation of a decades-old easement agreement. When Wil and Jane sued under the Quiet Title Act, the government claimed the 12-year statute of limitations had passed. The Supreme Court agreed to review the case to determine whether the Quiet Title Act’s statute of limitations is “jurisdictional”—meaning, it’s a hard rule that prevents Wil and Jane’s lawsuit from being considered on the merits—or not.
Here are Jeff’s thoughts on how oral arguments went.
PLF: This was your first time arguing at the Supreme Court. What was it like?
Jeff: It’s a unique experience being able to argue in that famous courtroom in front of the nine Justices. The build-up was nerve-racking, but once it started, it felt like other arguments. You’re there to answer the Court’s questions and advocate for your client.
PLF: Wil Wilkins—a self-described “mountain man” who’s fighting this case to protect his home—flew from Montana to DC this week so he could be in the audience at the Supreme Court to watch oral arguments. How did it feel to have Wil there?
Jeff: Wil’s relentlessness is the reason I was able to argue before the Court yesterday. His willingness to fight for what is right helps motivate me to continue working for him and to vindicate his rights. Having Wil at the Court helped keep me focused on why we were there: to fight for Wil, Jane, and the many other property owners across America in similar positions.
PLF: What did you think about the Justices’ questions for you? Any surprises?
Jeff: Actually, there were no real surprises—my colleagues at PLF helped me prep, and we did several moot courts with outside attorneys, so I was prepared to answer the Justices’ questions. I will say that at one point Justice Elena Kagan stepped in to save me during my colloquy with Justice Samuel Alito—that was nice.
PLF: The Justices seemed to have some contentious exchanges with the government’s attorney.
Jeff: I think the Justices’ questions to the assistant solicitor general reflected the difficult argument he was trying to make. Congress passed the Quiet Title Act to give people like Wil the ability to protect their property rights from the federal government. Congress did not want rigid procedural rules to prevent property owners from getting their day in court.
PLF: Now we have to wait for a decision. Any feeling on how the Court will decide?
Jeff: I believe the Justices understood our argument. Of course, I hope they’ll side with us. Unfortunately, even with a win, we will still have to go back to the district court to make our case again. After four years, and a trip to the Supreme Court, we’re still just arguing for the right to be heard. But I’m confident that if we get to make our full case before the district court, we can prevail.