ACUS: Federal Claims Court rule leads to "intractable jurisdictional conundrums"


Congress should repeal a law dating back to Reconstruction that prohibits the U.S. Court of Federal Claims from considering lawsuits pending in other courts, says a committee of the Administrative Conference of the United States.

The Administrative Conference is an independent agency that offers research and advice to improve how the government works. Its committee on judicial review says (.pdf) the law no longer makes sense in the context of complex, modern-day litigation.

The law arose amid a proliferation of lawsuits from residents of the Confederacy who wanted compensation for cotton that the United States seized during the Civil War. The law was most recently reenacted in 1948 as Section 1500 of the Judicial Code and has remained largely unchanged, the committee says.

Over time though, it has become "an undesirably blunt tool," the committee says in a recommendation the Administrative Conference will discuss at its biannual meeting Dec. 6-7.

Nowadays, plaintiffs face complex questions of which court should hear their cases and when, especially if one set of circumstances can arguably lead to multiple claims. If a case filed outside of Federal Claims Court lasts past the court's 6-year statute of limitations, plaintiffs may lose the chance to prosecute worthwhile claims that they would've also filed in Federal Claims Court had Section 1500 not prohibited them from doing so.

The committee also cites several cases that the law unfairly affected. In one, a federal employee's Equal Pay Act claims were transferred to the Federal Claims Court and then dismissed because the action, originally filed in a district court, was technically still considered pending there.

In another, a Federal Claims Court called its own dismissal of a case "neither fair nor rational," but required under Section 1500.

The law puts plaintiffs in "intractable jurisdictional conundrums," the committee says. It's also unnecessary, because courts can use stays and transfers to reduce duplicative lawsuits, the committee adds.

The recommendation says Congress should replace the law with one that has the Federal Claims Court suspend cases where the plaintiff has an equivalent case pending in another court--until that other case concludes.

The parties in a case would also be able to agree to proceed in Federal Claims Court.

The proposed law would apply to all claims pending at the time of its enactment.

For more:
- download the proposed recommendation, "Reform of 28 U.S.C. Section 1500" (.pdf)

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