Argued: October 25, 2017
from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of North Carolina, at Raleigh. Louise W. Flanagan,
District Judge. (5:15-hc-02292-FL)
Joseph Brignac, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER,
Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant.
Michael Gordon James, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY,
Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.
P. McNamara, Federal Public Defender, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL
PUBLIC DEFENDER, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant.
Stuart Bruce, United States Attorney, G. Norman Acker,
Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES
ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.
DIAZ, THACKER, and HARRIS, Circuit Judges.
Joe Searcy appeals his civil commitment under the Adam Walsh
Act, 18 U.S.C. § 4248. He does not challenge the factual
findings of the district court, but rather urges us to hold
that the government initiated this civil commitment
proceeding after the applicable statute of limitations had
lapsed. Searcy argues that the four-year
"catch-all" statute of limitations Congress enacted
for civil actions, see 28 U.S.C. § 1658(a),
applies to civil commitment proceedings under the Adam Walsh
Act. Thus, says Searcy, by not filing a certification until
more than a decade after his incarceration and more than
eight years after the passage of the Adam Walsh Act, the
government initiated civil commitment proceedings too late.
But, as we explain, 28 U.S.C. § 1658(a) doesn't
apply to civil commitment under the Adam Walsh Act. We
therefore affirm the district court's judgment.
Joe Searcy was convicted for using interstate commerce to
engage in a sexual activity with a minor, in violation of 18
U.S.C. § 2422(b). On December 4, 2003, the district
court sentenced him to a term of 180 months imprisonment
followed by a three-year term of supervised release. Searcy
was scheduled to be discharged from prison on June 25, 2016.
Searcy was incarcerated, Congress passed the Adam Walsh Child
Protection and Safety Act. See Pub. L. No. 109-248,
120 Stat 587. Among other things, the Act provides a
mechanism for civil commitment of individuals in federal
custody who are deemed to be sexually dangerous persons. 18
U.S.C. § 4248. On December 4, 2015, as the end of
Searcy's sentence approached, the Bureau of Prisons
certified Searcy as a sexually dangerous person and
petitioned to have him civilly committed pursuant to the Act.
The certification was based in part on Searcy's current
conviction, as well as prior state convictions in Florida and
Kansas for sexual activity with a child; performing a lewd,
lascivious, or indecent act upon a child under the age of
sixteen; and exploitation of a child.
of the certification process, the Bureau of Prisons conducted
a psychological review and assessment of Searcy, which
indicated diagnoses of pedophilic disorder, otherwise
specified personality disorder with antisocial and
narcissistic features, and moderate alcohol use disorder. The
Bureau also performed a risk assessment of Searcy and
concluded that based on "his prior offense conduct,
sexual preoccupation, deviant sexual interest,
offense-supportive attitude, lack of emotionally intimate
relationships with adults, lifestyle impulsiveness, poor
problem solving skills, resistance to rules and supervision,
grievance/hostility and negative social influences, "
Searcy would have "serious difficulty refraining from
sexually violent conduct or child molestation if
released." J.A. 17-18.
moved to dismiss the civil commitment proceeding, arguing,
among other things, that the four-year catch-all statute of
limitations in 28 U.S.C. § 1658(a) required the
government to commence civil commitment proceedings against
him within four years after the enactment of the Adam Walsh
Act. Generally speaking, § 1658(a) provides a four-year
statute of limitations for federal civil actions where
Congress has not specified one. Congress passed the Adam
Walsh Act while Searcy was incarcerated, so Searcy argued
that the four-year clock began to run with the passage of the
district court denied the motion, holding that § 1658(a)
"does not apply to respondent's § 4248
proceeding" because the proceeding "is governed by
the provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 4248, " under which
"[t]he sole statutory precondition . . . is that
[Searcy] be in the custody of [the Bureau of Prisons], be
civilly committed as mentally incompetent to stand trial
under 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d), or have had all criminal
charges against him dismissed solely for reasons relating to
his mental condition." J.A. 120. The district court also
noted that because the civil commitment inquiry is
"primarily prospective, respondent's argument that
evidence became 'stale, ' was 'lost, ' or
'watered down' prior to his certification is without
merit." Id. (internal citation omitted).
district court conducted a two-day hearing in which Searcy
represented himself. The court heard testimony from four
psychiatric experts, all of whom testified that Searcy
satisfied the criteria for civil commitment. At the
conclusion of the hearing, the district court found Searcy to
be a sexually dangerous person and entered a judgment
committing him to the custody and care of the Attorney
General "until such time that he is no longer a sexually
dangerous person." J.A. 495. This appeal followed.
called upon to consider the relationship between two
statutes: the civil commitment provisions of the Adam Walsh
Act, 18 U.S.C. § 4248, and the four-year catch-all
statute of limitations, 28 U.S.C. § 1658(a). To
understand how these statutes interact, we begin with an
overview of each.
enacted the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of
2006 to "protect children from sexual exploitation and
violent crime, to prevent child abuse and child pornography,
to promote Internet safety, and to honor the memory of Adam
Walsh and other child crime victims." Pub. L. No.
109-248, 120 Stat 587. Among other things, the Act
established new sex-offender registry and notification
requirements; enhanced certain criminal laws relating to
sexual and violent crimes against children; and, relevant to
this case, established a procedure for federal civil
commitment of dangerous sex offenders. Id.
federal legislation provides for civil commitment of
individuals in federal custody who, for example,
"suffer from a mental disease or defect" and for
whom release "would create a substantial risk of bodily
injury to another person or serious damage to property of
another." See 18 U.S.C. § 4246(a).
Additionally, a number of states have enacted laws "that
seek to protect the public from mentally abnormal, sexually
dangerous individuals through civil commitment or other
mandatory treatment programs" for persons in state
custody. See Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346,
388-89 (1997) (Breyer, J., dissenting) (collecting statutes).
The Adam Walsh Act established a federal civil commitment
procedure specifically focused on individuals deemed to be
commitment under the Act applies to persons who are in the
custody of the Bureau of Prisons, who are committed to the
custody of the Attorney General pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §
4241(d),  or who have had criminal charges dropped
solely because of their mental condition. 18 U.S.C. §
4248(a). To initiate civil commitment proceedings, the
Attorney General or an authorized individual must file a
certificate in the district court where the person is
confined certifying that the person is sexually dangerous.
Id. A sexually dangerous person is one who "has
engaged or attempted to engage in sexually violent conduct or
child molestation" and who "suffers from a serious
mental illness, abnormality, or disorder as a result of which
he would have serious difficulty in refraining from sexually
violent conduct or child molestation if released." 18
U.S.C. § 4247(a)(5)- (6).
the filing of a certificate, the district court holds a
hearing at which the individual asserted to be sexually
dangerous has the right to counsel (appointed by the court if
he cannot afford a lawyer), and the opportunity "to
testify, to present evidence, to subpoena witnesses on his
behalf, and to confront and cross-examine witnesses who
appear at the hearing." 18 U.S.C. § 4247(d). The
court must be satisfied by clear and convincing evidence that
the person is sexually dangerous. 18 U.S.C. § 4248(d).
If the court so finds, the person is committed to the custody
of the state where he was domiciled or tried, or to the
custody of the Attorney General. Id.
person has been civilly committed, the Act provides
procedures for reevaluation and possible release. The
director of the facility where a person is civilly committed
must prepare annual reports "concerning the mental
condition of the person and containing recommendations
concerning the need for his continued commitment" and
submit those reports to the district court. 18 U.S.C. §
4247(e)(B). A civilly committed person may also (through
counsel or a guardian) petition the court every 180 days for
a hearing to determine whether he should be discharged.
See 18 U.S.C. § 4247(h). If the district court
determines by a preponderance of the evidence that a civilly
committed person will no longer be sexually dangerous to
others if released (either unconditionally or with a
prescribed regimen of medical, psychiatric, or psychological
care or treatment), then the person may be discharged. 18
U.S.C. § 4248(e). A person may also challenge his civil
commitment collaterally through habeas corpus proceedings.
See 18 U.S.C. § 4247 (g).
U.S.C. § 1658(a) addresses the time limits for bringing
certain claims in federal court. Before the passage of the
statute, federal courts hearing civil cases routinely engaged
in the practice of "limitations borrowing." This
meant that when Congress failed to specify a statute of
limitations in a federal law, "the settled practice
[was] to adopt a local time limitation as federal law if it
[was] not inconsistent with federal law or policy to do
so." See Jones v. ...