Mayer Unified School District v. Winkleman (2/13/09)

This one won’t be of much interest to most; a tip of the hat to the court, though, for a well-written opinion. It helps that the legal analysis consists of one sentence.

Winkleman is the State Land Commissioner, in charge of school trust lands. From 1909 to 1967, the state granted easements over trust land without compensation. In 1967 the United States Supreme Court held, in Lassen v. Arizona, 385 U.S. 458, that the state had to charge for such easements; since then it has. In this case a couple of school districts sued Winkleman as Land Commissioner, the State Land Department, the state, and pre-1967 easement holders for the money the state should have charged between 1909 and 1967.

The filed the case in 2004. The issue was, therefore, the statute of limitations.

The court recited the historical facts and pointed out that the cause of act could not have accrued until at least 1967, when Lassen made people aware that the state’s action was improper.  Plaintiffs argued that  not collecting past money was a “continuing violation” by the state, which would mean that their 2004 filing was still timely even though the applicable statute of limitations was one year.

The court analyzed the Plaintiffs’ argument by citing an Indian land case from the Court of Claims that disagreed with a similar argument and adding this:

We agree that the violation here also occurred once, when the  . . . easements were granted, even though the cause of action did not accrue until 1967.

The cause of action thus accrued in 1967; the plaintiffs Complaint was about 36 years late.

This sort of clear, if somewhat conclusory, approach is old-fashioned; it was common in Arizona Supreme Court cases sixty and more years ago. We hope its coming back into vogue — it is really not necessary to turn every opinion into a legal treatise or a demonstration of  how much the judge knows. But we’re not holding our breaths.