United States District Court, D. Montana, Butte Division
BAR K RANCH, LLC; MICHAEL WALSH; FRED WALSH, and EILEEN WHITE Plaintiffs,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, STATE OF MONTANA, et al., Defendants.
Morris United States District Court Judge
Bar K Ranch, LLC, Michael Walsh, Fred Walsh, and Eileen White
(collectively “Plaintiffs”) filed a complaint for
declaratory, injunctive, and equitable relief, seeking
clarification on the public and private rights-of-way over
roads in Madison County. Defendant Madison County Commission
filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' claim for
injunctive relief (Count IV), arguing that the Plaintiffs
present a nonjusticiable political question or,
alternatively, that Count IV does not state a claim for which
relief can be granted. (Doc. 8). The United States Bureau of
Land Management, United States Forest Service, and the United
States of America (collectively “Federal
Defendants”), filed a motion to dismiss on June 17,
2019. (Doc. 13). Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint on
July 3, 2019. (Doc. 23). Federal Defendants filed a second
motion to dismiss on July 17, 2019. (Doc. 27). Madison County
Commission did not re-file their motion to dismiss.
Court held on a hearing on the pending motions to dismiss the
Amended Complaint on September 10, 2019. Madison County
Commission's motion to dismiss and the Federal
Defendants' first motion to dismiss preceded the filing
of the Amended Complaint and are denied as moot. The Court
also denies the Federal Defendants' second motion to
Defendants attack the sufficiency of Plaintiffs' Amended
Complaint on two grounds. Federal Defendants first argue that
the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Federal Defendants next
contend that the complaint fails to state a claim under Rule
12(b)(6). The parties disagree about whether several of the
issues raised by Federal Defendants prove jurisdictional in
nature thereby requiring resolution under Rule 12(b)(1), or
whether the issue represents non-jurisdictional defects, and,
thus, properly should be resolved under Rule 12(b)(6). The
Court agrees with Plaintiffs that Defendants' challenges
constitute affirmative, non-jurisdictional defenses, properly
analyzed under Rule 12(b)(6).
must dismiss a complaint if it fails to “state a claim
upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(6). The Court must consider as true all allegations of
material fact and construe those allegations in a light most
favorable to the plaintiff. Cahill v. Liberty Mut.
Ins. Co, 80 F.3d 336, 337-338 (9th Cir. 1996). A court
may dismiss a complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(1) for a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. A federal
court's subject matter jurisdiction arises from the
“statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the
case.” Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better
Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998). A case must be
dismissed, at any stage in litigation, if the court lacks
subject matter jurisdiction over the matter. Fed.R.Civ.P.
“[s]uits against the government are barred for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction unless the government expressly
and unequivocally waives its sovereign immunity.”
Mills v. United States, 742 F.3d 400, 404 (9th Cir.
2014) (citation omitted). The Quiet Title Act (QTA) functions
as a waiver of sovereign immunity and provides the
“[e]xclusive means by which adverse claimants could
challenge the United States' title to real
property.” Block v. North Dakota ex rel. Board of
U. & Sch. Lands, 461 U.S. 273, 286 (1983).
urge the Court to dismiss the Amended Complaint for lack of
jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) for two reasons: first,
because the claim proves time-barred; and second, because
Plaintiffs lack standing to bring a claim on behalf of the
public. Defendants also urge the Court to dismiss the Amended
Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) because Plaintiffs have failed
to state a claim under the QTA and are prohibited from
obtaining prescriptive easements against the United States.
The Court addresses each argument in turn.
Statute of Limitations
provides a twelve-year statute of limitations from the date
of accrual. 28 U.S.C. § 2409a(g). An action
“accrue[s] on the date the plaintiff or his predecessor
in interest knew or should have known of the claim of the
United States.” Id.
Supreme Court in Block reversed the lower courts and
determined that the QTA's statute of limitations applied
to states. Block, 461 U.S. at 292-93. The Supreme Court
declared in its conclusion that “the federal defendants
are correct: If North Dakota's suit is barred by §
2409a(f), the courts below had no jurisdiction to inquire
into the merits.” Id.; see also United
States v. Mottaz, 476 U.S. 834, 841 (1986) (“When
the United States consents to be sued, the terms of its
waiver of sovereign immunity define the extent of the
court's jurisdiction.”). The Supreme Court remanded
the case for a determination of when the action accrued.
Block, 461 U.S. at 293. The Ninth Circuit, citing the
conclusory statement in Block, similarly determined that the
statute of limitations in the QTA represented a
jurisdictional prerequisite to bring an action: “[i]f
the statute of limitations has run on a waiver of sovereign
immunity, federal courts lack jurisdiction.”
Skranak v. Castenada, 425 F.3d 1213, 1216 (9th Cir.
recent Supreme Court decisions cast doubt on this seemingly
clear characterization of time-bars as jurisdictional in
nature. See United States v. Kwai Fun Wong, 135
S.Ct. 1625, 1632 (2015); Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp.,
546 U.S. 500, 510 (2006); Sebelius v. Auburn Regional
Med. Ctr., 568 U.S. 145, 153 (2013). The Supreme Court
in Wong explained that “we have repeatedly held that
procedural rules, including time bars, cabin a court's
power only if Congress has clearly stated as much.” 135
S.Ct. at 1632 (internal alterations and quotations omitted).
The “clear statement” rule derived from Wong
appears to conflict with the canon of statutory construction
that directs courts to construe narrowly waivers of sovereign
immunity. The Supreme Court in Wong, however, declined to
treat a waiver of sovereign immunity any differently:
“it makes no difference that a time bar conditions a
waiver of sovereign immunity.” Id. at 1638.
The Supreme Court in Wong clarified that “traditional
tools of statutory construction must plainly show that
Congress imbued a procedural bar with jurisdictional
consequences.” Id. at 1632.
this pronouncement in Wong, the Supreme Court has “made
plain that most time bars are nonjurisdictional.”
Id. Statutes of limitations remain
“important.” Id. The Supreme Court
recognized, however, that “framed in mandatory terms,
” and even “emphatically expressed, ”
statutes of limitations still “do not deprive a court
of authority to hear a case.” Id. The Supreme
Court characterized statutes of limitation more properly as
claim processing rules that do not restrict a court's
inherent power to hear a case. Id. (quoting
Henderson v. Shinseki, 562 U.S. 428, 435 (2011)).
have wrestled with the impact of Wong. The Eleventh Circuit
concluded that the statute of limitations in the QTA prove
jurisdictional, even in light of Wong. F.E.B. Corp. v.
United States,818 F.3d 681, 685 n.3 (11th Cir. 2016).
Other courts have reached the opposite conclusion. Payne
v. United States Bureau of Reclamation, 2017 WL 6819927,
at *2 (C.D. Calif. Aug. 15, 2017). The Sixth Circuit in
Herr v. United States Forest Service,803 F.3d 809
(6th Cir. 2015), recognized, in light of Wong, that the
statute of limitations in 28 U.S.C. § 2401(a) imposed no
jurisdictional barrier to ...