SCOTUS delivers major victory for property rights
March 28, 2023
Washington, D.C.; March 28, 2023: The U.S. Supreme Court announced today that two property owners in Montana will have their day in court to prove that the U.S. Forest Service illegally encroached on their land. It reversed lower courts that accepted the agency’s arguments to dismiss their case on procedural grounds.
“Today’s decision is a major victory for property rights,” said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Jeffrey McCoy, who argued the case before the Court. “The decision affirms that the government cannot manipulate procedural rules to prevent property owners from defending their constitutional rights.”
In Wilkins v. United States, Wil Wilkins and Jane Stanton claimed the Forest Service unilaterally and illegally changed the terms of a decades-old agreement that allowed the Forest Service to cross Wil and Jane’s private land to access the nearby National Forest.
The Ninth Circuit held that the statute of limitations of the Quiet Title Act — which allows property owners to sue the United States over a disputed title to property in which the federal government has claimed an interest — is “jurisdictional,” meaning a court cannot consider the merits of a case if the time limit for the complaint has expired. Wil and Jane’s case was dismissed before they could demonstrate how the Forest Service changed the terms of the easement. In fact, they weren’t even able to fully argue that they brought the case within the time limit.
But the Supreme Court disagreed. Writing for the majority in a 6-3 decision, Justice Sotomayor said “All told, neither this Court’s precedents nor Congress’ actions established that §2409a(g) is jurisdictional.”
As a result, the case will go back to the district court, where Wil and Jane will have their day in court. The precedent will open courthouse doors for many other future landowners in disputes against the federal government.
This case marks Pacific Legal Foundation’s 15th victory at the Supreme Court of the United States.
Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 34 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 17 wins of 19 cases litigated at the U.S. Supreme Court.