Professor Gregory Sisk

Sisk Files Amicus Brief in Supreme Court Tort Cases

Professor Gregory Sisk, Laghi Distinguished Chair in Law, filed an amicus brief  in November in U.S. Supreme Court cases "United States v. Wong" and "United States v. June," arguing in support of the private parties that statutes allowing suits against the federal government should be interpreted in ordinary terms and not read strictly in favor of the government. Both cases deal with tort law and government litigation.

The basic issues, as Sisk describes:

Sometimes a person who has suffered a personal injury at the hands of another is not able to immediately identify who was actually responsible or has been misled by the responsible person about what happened, such as by hiding crucial information or lying about the events. On other occasions, a person may not be able to bring a lawsuit right away, because she remains incapacitated from an injury or is a child but others have failed to take action on his behalf. Under such circumstances, the law does not impose an absolute limitations period. Rather, the statute of limitations may be equitably tolled. In other words, the clock for filing a timely lawsuit is stopped until the person reasonably should know what happened or the obstacle to filing suit has been removed.

Should that same doctrine of “equitable tolling” be applied when the party responsible for an injury is the United States government? That is the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court (in) "United States v. Wong" and "United States v. June."

Both cases will be argued Dec. 10. The solicitor general, who represents the federal government before the Supreme Court, is arguing that the sovereign United States is entitled to special protection and that the statute of limitations under the Federal Tort Claims Act is an absolute and unbendable rule of jurisdiction. The lawyers for the private parties suing the federal government instead rely on prior decisions in which the Supreme Court has said, as a general rule, that a statute of limitations in suits against the government may be equitably tolled in the same manner as in private lawsuits.

Sisk contends that the Supreme Court no longer gives a slanted reading of such statutes in favor of the government, but especially on procedural matters, generally applies the same expectations to the United States that would apply to private defendants. As he writes, “An early jaundiced judicial attitude has resolved into a greater respect for the legislative pledge of relief to those harmed by their government.”

Sisk is one of the nation’s leading experts on lawsuits involving the U.S. government. He has published both a treatise and the only law school casebook on the subject, both titled Litigation With the Federal Government. His scholarly works on sovereign immunity and construction of statutory waivers of federal sovereign immunity are regularly cited by the federal courts.