[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that time limits under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) [28 USC § 2401(b)] are subject to equitable tolling. In a 5-4 vote in United States v. June and United States v. Wong [SCOTUSblog backgrounders], the justices ruled [AP report] that the deadline for filing suit against the federal government for negligence could be extended if plaintiffs have made an effort to comply or failed to learn about important information prior to a deadline. The cases were combined in a majority opinion by Justice Elena Kagan who wrote that Congress did not clearly state when passing the FTCA that it wanted deadlines to be firm, saying, “The time limits in the FTCA are just time limits, nothing more.”
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in the two cases in December concerning time bars for filing claims against the US government under the FTCA. In United States v. Wong [transcript, PDF] the court heard arguments on whether the six-month time bar for filing suit in federal court under the FTCA is subject to equitable tolling. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had held [opinion] “that § 2401(b) is not “jurisdictional,” and that equitable tolling is available under the circumstances presented in this case.” In United States v. June [transcript, PDF] the court considered a similar question: “Whether the two-year time limit for filing an administrative claim with the appropriate federal agency under the [FTCA] … is subject to equitable tolling.” The Ninth Circuit had reached the same conclusion [opinion] in light of its ruling in Wong.