Federal Takings

Arent Fox's Eminent Domain & Property Rights Practice

Federal Takings

Federal Government Wrongly Asserts US Court of Federal Claims Has No Jurisdiction over Michigan Landowners’ Compensation Claims in Brott v. U.S.

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Federal Government Wrongly Asserts US Court of Federal Claims Has No Jurisdiction over Michigan Landowners’ Compensation Claims in Brott v. U.S.

Arent Fox filed claims for compensation on behalf of Michigan landowners’ whose property was taken by the federal government for the construction of a recreational trail. The claims were filed in both the US Court of Federal Claims and the US District Court for the Western District of Michigan (US District Court complaint here). Instead of agreeing to pay these property owners the “just compensation” they are owed for the land the government took from them, the US Department of Justice irresponsibly argues that the Court of Federal Claims does not have jurisdiction over the landowners’ claims (under 28 U.S.C. § 1500) because the landowners later filed their claims in US District Court.

The federal government is wrong, again, and should compensate these landowners instead of irresponsibly trying to dismiss their claims. Federal courts have repeatedly stated that § 1500 does not result in the Court of Federal Claims losing jurisdiction over takings claims when such claims are filed in the Court of Federal Claims first and subsequently filed in US District Court. This is called the “order-of-filing rule.”

As our friend and property rights expert Robert Thomas recently blogged, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has recently re-addressed § 1500 and its effect on the Court of Federal Claims’ jurisdiction in which it made some interesting comments. The Federal Circuit’s opinion is in the case of Ministerio Roca Solida v. United States, No. 2014-5058 (Feb. 26, 2015), and is available here. Robert points out that some of the claims made by Ministerio Roca are very similar to the claims we have asserted in Brott.

Ministerio Roca held that § 1500 bars the Court of Federal Claims from hearing a landowner’s takings claim that was first filed in US District Court. However, as Judge Richard G. Taranto’s concurring opinion explained, the Federal Circuit’s order-of-filing rule could have prevented dismissal of the takings claim if the landowner had first filed in the Court of Federal Claims (slip op. p. 8). While the court dismissed the landowners claim for lack of jurisdiction, it explained that Ministerio Roca can pursue its takings claim in the Court of Federal Claims after the US District Court case is finished.

But what happens if the statute of limitations runs out before the district court issues its decision? The result would be unjust and unconstitutional — federal jurisdictional statutes precluding a landowner from the constitutional right to “just compensation” under the Fifth Amendment.

The Federal Circuit avoided these crucial constitutional questions in Ministerio Roca. But federal courts will have to deal with them in Brott. More on that later.

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