Orrick Secures Major U.S. Supreme Court Victory For Victims of Government Negligence

April.22.2015

Orrick secured a victory at the U.S. Supreme Court on April 22 in United States v. Marlene June. In a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled that a crucial statute of limitations under the Federal Tort Claims Act is subject to equitable tolling. The ruling is an important victory for victims of wrongful government action.

The case relates to the Federal Tort Claims Act, which authorizes victims of the government’s negligence or wrongful conduct to sue the government for damages. There are several prerequisites to suit under the FTCA, including a requirement that the victim must first present her claim to the responsible administrative agency within two years of the date on which it accrues. The question in U.S. v. June was whether that two-year time limit, like most time limits administered by federal courts, is subject to equitable tolling in extraordinary circumstances.  The Supreme Court has now ruled, in an opinion by Justice Kagan, that equitable tolling is available, siding with an Orrick team including Josh Rosenkranz (who argued the case before the Court), Bob Loeb, Brian Ginsberg and David Spencer.

“It isn’t often the US government seeks Supreme Court review, has that review granted, and then loses.  So this win is especially gratifying,” said Mr. Rosenkranz, head of Orrick’s Supreme Court & Appellate practice.  “This case presented a stark choice between fair, equitable timing rules for bringing tort claims against the government and rigid, jurisdictional timing rules that often left tort victims with no recourse through no fault of their own.  The Court agreed with us, that for tort claims, if Congress wants harsh, rigid rules, it needs to say so.  Absent such a clear statement from Congress, the general presumption in allowing a court to consider the equitable circumstances of the tort victim continues to prevail.  This a major victory for Ms. June and for all people who have suffered from wrongful or negligent conduct by the federal government.”​