24 April 2015

Law in Plain English: United States v. Wong

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogUnited States v. Wong

Argument: Dec 10 2014 (Aud.)

Background: Hong Kong citizen Kwai Fun Wong, a leader of the Wu Wei Tien Tao religious group, was detained and deported for unlawful entry into the United States. On May 18, 2001, Wong filed a negligence claim with the (then) Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS),  alleging that she had been mistreated by that agency while she was detained. After the INS denied her claim on December 3, 2001, Wong filed a claim on August 13, 2002, under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), alleging the same conduct. The FTCA has a statute of limitations that “[a] tort claim against the United States shall be forever barred...unless action is begun within six months after the...final denial of the claim by the agency to which it was presented.” The district court dismissed Wong's FTCA claim because it was not filed within six months. An en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that the statute of limitations was subject to equitable tolling. Wong's claim was filed late "due solely to the delay inherent in the Magistrate Judge system," and not through any fault of Wong's. As a result, Wong's claim could proceed.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether the six-month time bar for filing suit in federal court under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2401(b), is subject to equitable tolling.

Holding: In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 2401(b)’s time limits are subject to equitable tolling. Section 2401(b)’s time limits are subject to equitable tolling because the Court previously adopted a “rebuttable presumption” that such time bars maybe equitably tolled. As a result, the Court concluded, Congress thus must do something special to tag a statute of limitations as jurisdictional and so prohibit a court from tolling it. Congress did no such thing in enacting §2401(b).
Post a Comment