The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in George v. United States on Monday, March 5, 2012.
Plaintiff Ann George wanted to build a fence across her property, but the fence blocked a federal easement road accessing the Gila National Forest. The government objected to the fence based on federal regulations. In 2009, Ms. George filed a quiet title action to build the fence. The District Court ruled in favor of the government, holding that the statute of limitations had run on plaintiff’s claim. Plaintiff appealed.
A quiet title action has a statute of limitations of 12 years, and begins to run when “the plaintiff or his predecessor in interest knew or should have known of the claim of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2409a(g). The Secretary of Agriculture published regulations in the Federal Register in 1977 prohibiting anyone from “placing . . . [a] fence . . . without a permit” anywhere in the “National Forest System” or on its “[f]orest development road[s] or trail[s].” 36 C.F.R. §§ 261.10(a); 261.1(a) (1977). Publishing a regulation in the Federal Register must be considered “sufficient to give notice of [its] contents” to “a person subject to or affected by it.” 44 U.S.C. § 1507.
The undisputed facts established that Mr. Hamilton, plaintiff’s predecessor in interest, reached an agreement with the federal government in 1979, in part establishing the easement road across which plaintiff wished to build a fence. Therefore, the statute of limitations began to run in 1979, when Mr. Hamilton “knew or should have known” about the regulations that had been published in 1977 prohibiting the construction of a fence on a forest road. Therefore, in 2009, plaintiff brought her claim 18 years too late.
The case was not decided on the merits. The court’s ruling had only to do with the statute of limitations. The judgment was affirmed.