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A simple ‘no’ would have sufficed

David Donovan//November 2, 2012

A simple ‘no’ would have sufficed

David Donovan//November 2, 2012

It’s easy to feel bad for someone who missed out on pursuing a claim because they filed their case a few days after the statute of limitations expired. But when you file your case a few decades after the statute of limitations has expired, then we don’t feel so bad. And, apparently, neither does the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case was brought by two plaintiffs, one a seller of firearms, the other a purchaser of them. They were challenging an IRS agency ruling which limits the ability of federal firearms licensees to sell firearms at out-of-state gun shows.

Inconveniently for the plaintiffs, that ruling has been on the books since 1969, and federal law states that a civil action against the United States is barred unless the complaint is filed within six years after an agency publishes a regulation. So by our calculations, the statute of limitations took effect … about the time that Gerald Ford was president, an unknown filmmaker named Steven Spielberg was releasing a movie called “Jaws” and Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony were doing The Hustle.

The plaintiffs, Afton Arms and Outer Banks Ammunition, argued that the law didn’t apply to them because, like most of us, they weren’t doing business in 1975. The Court of Appeals responded to that argument with a firm bench slap.

“The contention … that their cause of action did not accrue until they became federally licensed firearms dealers in 2008 utterly fails. The cases on which they rely offer no support for their position. None of those cases involve a facial challenge like the one they concededly bring here,” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for a unanimous court.

We’d say that challenge was terminated with extreme prejudice (a phrase that itself dates back to the 1970s).


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