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July 01, 2015

House Judiciary Committee approves bill to ensure parties’ rights to pursue legal claims against the United States

The House Judiciary Committee approved legislation July 8 that would apply much needed reforms to 28 U.S.C. § 1500 to enable companies, property owners, Indian tribes and other parties with meritorious claims against the federal government to obtain complete relief in the U.S. courts.

H.R. 2329, which is based on a recommendation from the Administrative Conference of the United States and supported by the ABA, would eliminate procedural roadblocks created by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Tohono O’odham Nation, 131 S. Ct. 1723 (2011).

Under well-established federal law, most contract and other monetary claims against the federal government must be filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (CFC) while most other legal claims, including tort claims and requests for equitable relief, must be brought in the U.S. district court. The CFC had long interpreted Section 1500, a Civil War-era statute, as permitting separate suits involving the same basic claim and facts to proceed in the CFC and the district court if the suits are seeking different remedies. The Supreme Court rejected CFC’s interpretation and held that the CFC has no jurisdiction over a claim if another suit based on the same operative facts is pending in any other court, regardless of the relief sought in each case.

As a result of the Tohono decision, many parties will be forced to elect which of their valid claims to pursue and may be foreclosed from prosecuting their remaining claims at a later date if the statute of limitations has run on those claims. 

H.R. 2329, as well as the Senate companion bill, S. 1353, would repeal the archaic language of Section 1500 and replace it with new, much clearer language allowing claimants to simultaneously pursue their different claims in the CFC and the district court with a presumptive stay of the latter-filed action.  

In a July 2 letter to the House Judiciary Committee, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman said the Section 1500 legislation would “advance the interests of justice and the efficient administration of the federal courts” by allowing all parties to seek both monetary and equitable relief in the appropriate federal courts without fear that their valid claims will be dismissed for non-merit based procedural reasons. 

He also pointed out that the current version of the legislation includes several technical refinements suggested by the Justice Department during consideration of similar legislation during the 113th Congress.   

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