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Calhoun County v. United States

Citation: 28 ELR 20466
No. 97-40663, 132 F.3d 1100/(5th Cir., 01/22/1998)

The court holds that a county's action to quiet title to real property used by the United States as a wildlife management area on Matagorda Island in Texas is time barred. The federal government condemned a portion of Matagorda Island for use as a bombing and gunnery range, and in 1982 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Governor of Texas entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to maintain Matagorda Island as a Wildlife Management Area. The court first holds that the Quiet Title Act's (QTA's) 12-year statute-of-limitations period applies to the county's claim. The county is not a state, and, therefore, it is subject to the 12-year limitations period. Even under the limitations provisions applicable to states, a 12-year period would apply to this case because the United States and Texas have conducted activities to improve the wildlife habitat on Matagorda Island since 1982. The court next holds that the QTA's statute of limitations bars the county's claim because the cause-of-action accrued more than 12 years before commencement of the suit. The county had actual and constructive notice of the U.S. claim to the land on Matagorda Island by virtue of the 1982 MOA and the recording of conservation easements with the county clerk's office. In addition, the United States had been landing planes and dropping bombs on the island from the 1940s until the 1970s, which is openly and notoriously inconsistent with any claims the county may have had to that land. Even under the QTA's notice provisions applicable to states, these circumstances constitute sufficient notice for purposes of accrual of an action. The court also holds that equitable tolling does not apply to the facts of this case. Equitable tolling applies principally where the plaintiff is actively misled by the defendant about the cause-of-action or is prevented in some extraordinary way from asserting his rights. The evidence in this case did not include any evidence of active misrepresentation or extraordinary prevention by the United States that would justify the application of equitable tolling.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Oscar F. Jones III
Law Offices of Oscar F. Jones III
109 W. Santa Rosa St., Victoria TX 77902
(512) 573-6381

Counsel for Defendant
William B. Lazarus
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before Garza, Stewart, and Parker, JJ.