A federal judge wants more information before he can rule on the federal government's request to dismiss the Wisteria Island ownership case.
Specifically, federal Judge Jose Martinez wants more information on the sale of the island to the first private owner by the state of Florida in 1952.
The federal Bureau of Land Management ruled in 2011 that it owned the island in Key West Harbor, not the privately owned F.E.B. Corp.
Earlier this month, attorneys for F.E.B. Corp. and the Bureau of Land Management went before federal Judge Martinez to argue over the government's motion to dismiss the case. The government argued that the statute of limitations for the case has run out and the court "lacks jurisdiction."
F.E.B. contended the United States had never acquired title to the island and that F.E.B.'s ownership was confirmed by the Submerged Lands Act in 1953.
Martinez seemed puzzled by F.E.B.'s argument, according to the order he issued Friday.
"The parties must specifically address how the state of Florida, via the Internal Improvement Fund, was able to sell the property to Paul Sawyer (acting on behalf of former state House Rep. Bernie Papy) in 1952 if the state of Florida did not obtain interest in the land until 1953 and whether F.E.B. now has title to this land," Martinez wrote in an "order requiring the parties to brief issues."
Martinez also asked F.E.B. executives to clarify why they argue the "United States 1951 claim is moot."
The government has argued that Papy, who later sold the island to the founders of F.E.B. Corp., knew that the Navy was still claiming ownership of Wisteria when he purchased the island in 1951. The government cited a Sept. 27, 1951 letter from then-Florida Attorney General Richard Ervin.
When Papy was attempting to purchase the island from the state of Florida, Ervin questioned whether the Navy or any other federal agency had deeded the land to the state, or whether the state was selling something it didn't actually own. At the time, the Navy was still claiming ownership, but the state sold the property anyway.
"I just saw it and don't know what it means," Roger Bernstein, president of F.E.B. Corp. said Monday of Martinez's order.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Pogorzeki, who is representing the federal government, did not return two messages left with him on Monday asking for his comment on Martinez' order.
The judge gave the federal government until May 6 to file its answers and F.E.B. Corp. until May 13.