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Supreme Court rules equitable tolling does not apply to tribe's contract claim

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously Monday in Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin v. United States [SCOTUSblog materials] that equitable tolling does not apply to the presentment of a tribe's contract claim. The Menominee Tribe contracted with the Indian Health Service (IHS), under the terms of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, to take control of a Federal aid program that would otherwise be operated by the Federal government. In accordance with the law, the Menominee Tribe was eligible to receive the amount of money that the government otherwise would have spent on the program, including reimbursement for "contract support costs." Following a pair of successful claims by other tribes levied against the federal government over a failure to pay contract support costs, the Menominee Tribe filed a case with the IHS over contract support costs in 2005 for contract years 1995-2004. The contracting officer for the IHS denied the Menominee Tribe's claim based on its 1996, 1997, and 1998 contracts because those claims were barred by the six-year statute of limitations of the Contract Disputes Act. The Menominee Tribe appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which denied the claim because it failed to meet the test outlined by the Supreme Court in Holland v. Florida [opinion] that stipulates when equitable tolling permits an exception to the statute of limitations. According to the test in Holland, "a litigant is entitled to equitable tolling only if the litigant establishes two elements: 1) that he has been pursuing his rights diligently, and 2) that some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way to prevent a timely filing." The court held that the Menominee Tribe failed to meet the elements of the test, affirming the ruling of the DC Circuit.

The court heard oral argument [JURIST report] in this dispute in December. Certiorari was granted [JURIST report] last June.

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