Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The swallows and the crystal ball

Today, in John R. Sand & Gravel Co. v. U.S., the Supreme Court by 7-2 vote held that the statute of limitations for a claim against the U.S. under 28 U. S. C. §2501 could not be waived.

Distinguishing other cases where the limitations statutes for claims against the Government were held to be waivable, or subject to equitable estoppel, Justice Breyer concluded: "But these few swallows cannot make petitioner’s summer."

Justice Stevens and Justice Ginsburg thought the later cases were better-reasoned, and provided a basis for overruling the old cases to the contrary.

In her separate dissent, Justice Ginsburg invoked the crystal ball:

"Several times, in recent Terms, the Court has discarded statutory decisions rendered infirm by what a majority considered to be better informed opinion. See, e.g., Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., 551 U. S. ___, ___ (2007) (slip op., at 28) (overruling Dr. Miles Medi-cal Co. v. John D. Park & Sons Co., 220 U. S. 373 (1911)); Bowles v. Russell, 551 U. S. ___, ___ (2007) (slip op., at 9) (overruling Thompson v. INS, 375 U. S. 384 (1964) (per curiam), and Harris Truck Lines, Inc. v. Cherry Meat Packers, Inc., 371 U. S. 215 (1962) (per curiam)); Illinois Tool Works Inc. v. Independent Ink, Inc., 547 U. S. 28, 42– 43 (2006) (overruling, inter alia, Morton Salt Co. v. G. S. Suppiger Co., 314 U. S. 488 (1942)); Hohn v. United States, 524 U. S. 236, 253 (1998) (overruling House v. Mayo, 324 U. S. 42 (1945) (per curiam)). In light of these overrulings, the Court’s decision to adhere to Kendall, Finn, and Soriano — while offering nothing to justify their reasoning or results—is, to say the least, perplexing. After today’s decision, one will need a crystal ball to predict when this Court will reject, and when it will cling to, its prior deci-sions interpreting legislative texts."

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