High court to review statute of limitations on Quiet Title Act
The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear a case concerning the federal Quiet Title Act in its 2022-2023 term. The case, Wilkins v. United States, involves a 2018 quiet title action brought by Montana landowners against the federal government.
The landowners argue that a roadway easement across their land, held by the federal government, should not provide public access to the road. A lower court ruled that the landowners filed their lawsuit too late. The court ruled that the 12-year statute of limitations was jurisdictional — meaning it’s outside the court’s power to hear the case and it cannot be waived.
The plaintiffs in Wilkens argue that the time bar is non-jurisdictional. The case will be important to parties litigating property disputes against the federal government.
Court refuses eminent domain challenge
In related news, the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to the decision in the case Eychaner v. The City of Chicago last term. Eychaner involved taking land from one private owner to give it to another private owner for the “public purpose” of preventing it from becoming a blighted area.
The plaintiff sought to overrule the controversial Kelo v. City of New London case from 2005, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the government could use eminent domain to take property in order to promote private economic development. Under the Fifth Amendment, the government may only take property for “public use,” but the court in Kelo ruled that nearly any potential public benefit would qualify.
Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh dissented from the decision not to hear the case. As Thomas pointed out in his July 2022 dissent, Kelo created a mess that “makes it difficult to discern public use from private favors.”
Analysts say that Justice Samuel Alito has also signaled a willingness to reconsider the Kelo decision, suggesting that his refusal in Eychaner may have more to do with the conditions of that case rather than his views on Kelo.