George v. United States, et al, No. 11-2045 (10th Cir. 2012)Annotate this Case
Plaintiff-Appellant Anne George wanted to corral her horse on her property with a fence. The United States Forest Service held an easement across Plaintiff's land. Plaintiff offered to leave a gate across the road unlocked, but the Service rejected this option, arguing that the public needs unfettered access to the adjacent Gila National Forest. The parties' wrangling dragged on for years but led nowhere until Plaintiff filed suit to quiet title in 2009. In the end, the Tenth Circuit ruled against her. "Whatever legal entitlement she might have had to build a fence across the Forest Service's road she lost years ago thanks to an even less permeable barrier to entry: the statute of limitations." Plaintiff's predecessor-in-interest to the land granted the government an easement for access to the forest, and each time Plaintiff attempted to fence her property, the government promptly removed it. That, she argued, was inadequate for the government to assert its claim to the easement as being fence-free. Under the plain terms of the Quiet Title Act, the statute of limitations began to run whenever a plaintiff or her predecessor-in-interest knew or should have known of the government’s claim: "[o]ne can be on notice of a claim even if that claim lacks any legal merit. . . . [o]ur precedent does not allow plaintiffs to wait until the adverse claims of the title asserted by them and the United States crystallize into well-defined and open disagreements before commencing a quiet-title action."