Law School Case Brief
Wilkie v. Robbins - 551 U.S. 537, 127 S. Ct. 2588 (2007)
A court's consideration of a Bivens request follows a familiar sequence, and on the assumption that a constitutionally recognized interest is adversely affected by the actions of federal employees, the decision whether to recognize a Bivens remedy may require two steps. In the first place, there is the question whether any alternative, existing process for protecting the interest amounts to a convincing reason for the Judicial Branch to refrain from providing a new and freestanding remedy in damages. But even in the absence of an alternative, a Bivens remedy is a subject of judgment: the federal courts must make the kind of remedial determination that is appropriate for a common-law tribunal, paying particular heed, however, to any special factors counselling hesitation before authorizing a new kind of federal litigation.
Plaintiff-respondent Robbins' Wyoming guest ranch was a patchwork of land parcels intermingled with tracts belonging to other private owners, the State of Wyoming, and the National Government. The previous owner granted the United States an easement to use and maintain a road running through the ranch to federal land in return for a right-of-way to maintain a section of road running across federal land to otherwise isolated parts of the ranch. When Robbins bought the ranch, he took title free of the easement, which the Bureau of Land Management had not recorded. Robbins continued to graze cattle and run guest cattle drives under grazing permits and a Special Recreation Use Permit (“SRUP”) issued by the Bureau. Upon learning that the easement was never recorded, a Bureau official demanded that Robbins regrant it, but Robbins declined. Robbins claimed that after negotiations broke down, a Bureau of Land Management’s (“BLM”) employee, Joseph Vessels, and his supervisor, defendant Charles Wilkie, began a campaign of harassment and intimidation to force him to regrant the lost easement. Robbins filed suit against the BLM’s officials for damages and declaratory and injunctive relief including a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) claim that defendants repeatedly tried to extort an easement from him and that defendants violated his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. Ultimately, the District Court denied defendants' motion to dismiss the RICO claim based on qualified immunity. As to the constitutional claims, it dismissed what Robbins called his Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim and his Fifth Amendment due process claims, but declined to dismiss a Fifth Amendment claim of retaliation for the exercise of Robbins' rights to exclude the Government from his property and to refuse to grant a property interest without compensation. It adhered to this denial on summary judgment. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
Did the Court of Appeals err in denying summary judgment to Bureau of Land Management officials?
On certiorari, the Supreme Court of the United States held that Robbins had a civil remedy in damages for the alleged trespassing torts, and, although he had mixed success, he had an opportunity to contest all of the administrative claims brought against him. Administrative or judicial review had been available for the unfavorable agency actions. It was unclear whether the other alleged offensive behavior by the officials could be charged against the government. As to the argument that the whole was greater than the individual harms, trying to induce an easement grant for public use was a legitimate purpose. Robbins’ proposed "too much" standard was unworkable. An improper exercise of government regulatory powers was essential to the constitutional claim. Extortion under the Hobbs Act, as the predicate RICO offense, failed because the Hobbs Act did not apply if the alleged extortion was for the federal government's benefit. And, even if Wyoming's blackmail statute applied, it could not qualify as a predicate offense unless it could be generically classified as extortionate and the conduct alleged did not fit the traditional definition of extortion. The Court reversed, concluding that landowner Robbins did not have a cause of action.
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