UNITED STATES v. JUNE
In early 2005, Anthony Edward Booth and Laquith Green were driving along Interstate 10 in Phoenix, Arizona, when Green, the driver, lost control of the vehicle and drove it through a cable median into oncoming traffic. Their vehicle collided with another; Booth and Green were both killed. Marlene June, the conservator for Booth, sued the cable median manufacturer and the state of Arizona on Booth’s behalf and claimed the cable median did not function properly. During litigation, June attempted to depose certain Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) employees, but they were not made available until the spring of 2009. At the depositions, June’s counsel learned that the FHWA had tested the cable medians prior to the accident involving Booth. The cable medians failed to pass the FHWA’s crashworthiness test, yet the FHWA approved the medians as crashworthy. In December of 2010, June filled a claim with the FHWA concerning the defective barriers. In March 2011, FHWA denied the claim, and in May 2011 June filed a federal torts claim against the FHWA, via the United States Government.
The federal government moved to dismiss June’s claim for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under the statute of limitations in the Federal Torts Claims Act. The Act states that an individual must file a claim with the appropriate federal agency within a two-year statute of limitations and that agency must make a final ruling on the claim before the individual may file a claim against the federal government. The federal government claimed that this statute of limitations is “jurisdictional,” and thus not subject to equitable tolling. June claimed that the statute of limitations should not have begun to run until 2009, when the FWHA employees were made available for depositions, because she could not have been aware of her claim against the federal government until that time. The district court sided with the federal government, dismissing June’s claim. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed on the basis of the Court’s earlier opinion in Wong v. Beebe which held the federal torts claim statute of limitations was subject to equitable tolling.
Is the two-year statute of limitations for filing an administrative claim with a federal agency, prior to the initiation of a federal torts claim, subject to equitable tolling?