Breaking News

Are timing limits on property owners’ claims jurisdictional?

sketch of numerous cameras lined up outside the supreme court

The Relist Watch column examines cert petitions that the Supreme Court has “relisted” for its upcoming conference. A short explanation of relists is available here.

It’s now June — the home stretch of the Supreme Court’s term, and yet there are still 33 cases still undecided. The court also is facing a dwindling number of opportunities to grant review for cases to consider on the merits in the fall; this week’s conference marks the first of the court’s last four scheduled conferences. Mind you, if the past is any guide, the court will add at least one impromptu mop-up conference near the end of the term to finish up any remaining business before going into recess for the summer.

We have just one new relist this week. In Wilkins v. United States, Montana landowners Jane Stanton (who bought her property in 1990) and Larry Wilkins (who bought his property in 2004) filed a quiet title action in 2018 seeking to resolve a dispute over the scope of a roadway easement held by the United States that runs across their land, as well as over the federal government’s duties under the easement. Stanton and Wilkins argued that the easement didn’t permit public access to the road. The district court held that the federal Quiet Title Act’s 12-year statute of limitations is jurisdictional, concluded that a reasonable landowner would have known that the government had been permitting public use of the road since the 1970s, and dismissed the case. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed.

Back in the 1980s, the Supreme Court twice ruled that the 12-year statute of limitations in the Quiet Title Act is jurisdictional. However, in recent years, the court has begun reconsidering earlier decisions that characterized timing rules as “jurisdictional,” saying that unless Congress basically framed a rule in jurisdictional terms, it is a “claim processing” rule. Because a jurisdictional rule concerns a judge’s authority to hear a case, it is not subject to exceptions, the defendant can raise the claim at any time, and the plaintiff bears the burden of proof. By contrast, a claim-processing rule could allow for exceptions — for example, if a defendant waived the argument by not raising it with a timely motion.

The landowners say that the statute of limitations here is a claim-processing rule and that they would prevail under that characterization. The landowners contend that the federal government maintained the road to aid timber harvests, and did not mark the road with signs indicating the public could use the road until 2006. Traffic on the easement has only created problems since then, as increasing numbers of trespassers have entered their land. The landowners note that in 2009, picking up on the court’s changing case law, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit held that the Quiet Title Act’s statute of limitations is not jurisdictional. The government acknowledges a “lopsided (7-1) circuit conflict” but argues that even if the issue warranted review, “this case would be an unsuitable vehicle because petitioners’ suit is barred” even if the deadline is not jurisdictional. We’ll have a better idea what the court thinks on Monday.

That’s all for this week. Until next time, stay safe! 

New Relist

Wilkins v. United States, 21-1164
Issue: Whether the Quiet Title Act’s statute of limitations is a jurisdictional requirement or a claim-processing rule.
(relisted after the May 26 conference)

Returning Relists

Andrus v. Texas, 21-6001
Issues: (1) Whether, on remand, the Texas court rejected the Supreme Court’s conclusions in Andrus v. Texas, which were amply supported by the habeas and trial records, and whether the Texas court disregarded the Supreme Court’s express guidance for conducting a prejudice analysis pursuant to Strickland v. Washington; and (2) whether the Texas court’s failure to adhere to the Supreme Court’s decision conflicts with our constitutional system of vertical stare decisis and creates widespread confusion regarding the proper legal standard that courts must use in assessing whether the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel is violated in death-penalty cases.
(rescheduled before the Jan. 14, Jan. 21, Feb. 18, Feb. 25, March 4, and March 18 conferences; relisted after the March 25, April 1, April 14, April 22, April 29, May 12, May 19 and May 26 conferences) 

Cope v. Cogdill, 21-783
Issues: (1) Whether jail officials who are subjectively aware of a substantial risk that a pretrial detainee will attempt suicide and respond to the harm unreasonably may be held liable when their violation was obvious — as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 1st, 4th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 11th Circuits have held — or whether jail officials who respond unreasonably to the obvious risk should be granted qualified immunity in the absence of a case involving the same facts — as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit held below; (2) whether the objective standard the Supreme Court announced in Kingsley v. Hendrickson applies to inadequate-care claims brought by pretrial detainees — as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd, 6th, 7th, and 9th Circuits have held — or whether the subjective standard that applies to convicted prisoners also applies to pretrial detainees — as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 8th, 10th, and 11th Circuits have held and as the 5th Circuit held below; and (3) whether the judge-made qualified immunity doctrine requires reform.
(relisted after the April 1, April 14, April 22, April 29, May 12, May 19 and May 26 conferences; record requested and received after the April 22 conference)

Grzegorczyk v. United States, 21-5967
Issue: Whether Zenon Grzegorczyk is entitled to relief on his claim that knowingly using a facility of interstate commerce with intent that a murder be committed, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1958(a), is not a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c).
(relisted after the April 14, April 22, April 29, May 12, May 19 and May 26 conferences)

Thomas v. Lumpkin, 21-444
Issues: (1) Whether, under the Supreme Court’s clearly established precedent, Andre Thomas—an African American man who, during a schizophrenic episode, killed his estranged white wife, their son, and her daughter— was denied his constitutional right to be tried by an impartial jury, when three jurors at Thomas’s capital trial expressed opposition to people of different races marrying and having children—writing on their voir dire questionnaires that such relationships are “against God’s will,” that we should “stay with our Blood Line,” and that the children of interracial relationships are denied “a specific race to belong to”—and when the jurors never disclaimed those views or said they could set them aside to consider Thomas’s mental illness and make the individualized sentencing judgment required by the Constitution; and (2) whether Thomas was denied his constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel, when defense counsel did not object to, or seek to strike, any of those three jurors, and failed to ask two of them a single question about their bias.
(rescheduled before the Jan. 7, Jan. 14, Jan. 21, Feb. 18, Feb. 25, March 4, March 18, March 25, April 1, April 14, April 22 and April 29 conferences; relisted after the May 12, May 19 and May 26 conferences)

Shoop v. Cassano, 21-679
Issues: (1) Whether the Supreme Court should summarily reverse the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit’s award of habeas relief; (2) whether, when a three-judge panel clearly errs in awarding habeas relief, its decision raises questions important enough to justify en banc review; and (3) whether Cassano clearly and timely requested self-representation.
(rescheduled before the Mar. 4, Mar. 18, Mar. 25, April 1, April 14, April 22, April 29 and May 12 conferences; relisted after the May 19 and May 26 conferences)

Recommended Citation: John Elwood, Are timing limits on property owners’ claims jurisdictional?, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 2, 2022, 12:48 PM),