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U.S. Supreme Court

Rancher Loses Quest for Damages

Posted Jun 26, 2007 3:46 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A Wyoming rancher who sought damages from employees at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management had the support of a conservative public interest group, the Pacific Legal Foundation.

But only two liberal judges agreed that Harvey Frank Robbins should be allowed to pursue his claim for damages under the 1971 case, Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Robbins had claimed the BLM unconstitutionally retaliated against him for refusing to grant the agency an easement for road maintenance, the newspaper reports. The bureau had cited Robbins for a variety of transgressions, including letting his cattle trespass on neighboring property and overgraze during a drought.

The court ruled 7-2 yesterday that Robbins could not pursue the Bivens claim. A contrary ruling “would invite claims in every sphere of legitimate governmental action affecting property interests," Justice David H. Souter wrote for the majority. Wilkie v. Robbins, No. 06–219 (PDF).

All nine justices ruled that Robbins could not sue for a violation of the federal racketeering law.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in dissent on the constitutional claim that the record showed “unjustified or selective enforcement actions." She was joined by Justice John Paul Stevens.

The attorney for Robbins, Karen Budd-Falen, told the newspaper the Supreme Court appeared to be worried about opening the litigation floodgates. “The majority's decision gives those few unscrupulous federal employees the unlimited ability to harass private citizens without recourse," she said.

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