461 U.S. 273 (1983), 81-2337, Block v. North Dakota Ex Rel. Bd. of University And School Lands

Docket Nº:Nos. 81-2337, 82-132.
Citation:461 U.S. 273, 103 S.Ct. 1811, 75 L.Ed.2d 840
Party Name:John R. BLOCK, Secretary of Agriculture, et al., Petitioners, v. NORTH DAKOTA, ex rel. BOARD OF UNIVERSITY AND SCHOOL LANDS. NORTH DAKOTA, ex rel. BOARD OF UNIVERSITY AND SCHOOL LANDS, Petitioner, v. John R. BLOCK, Secretary of Agriculture, et al.
Case Date:May 02, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 273

461 U.S. 273 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 1811, 75 L.Ed.2d 840

John R. BLOCK, Secretary of Agriculture, et al., Petitioners,

v.

NORTH DAKOTA, ex rel. BOARD OF UNIVERSITY AND SCHOOL LANDS.

NORTH DAKOTA, ex rel. BOARD OF UNIVERSITY AND SCHOOL LANDS, Petitioner,

v.

John R. BLOCK, Secretary of Agriculture, et al.

Nos. 81-2337, 82-132.

United States Supreme Court.

May 2, 1983

Argued Feb. 23, 1983.

[103 S.Ct. 1812] Syllabus[*]

SYLLABUS

North Dakota filed suit in Federal District Court against several federal officials to resolve a dispute as to ownership of certain portions of a riverbed within the State. The United States claims title to most of the disputed area on the basis of its status as a riparian landowner on a [103 S.Ct. 1813] non-navigable river, while the State asserts that the river was navigable when North Dakota was admitted to the Union in 1899 and thus it owns the riverbed under the equal-footing doctrine. In addition to seeking injunctive, declaratory, and mandamus relief under various federal statutes, North Dakota asserted a claim under the Quiet Title Act of 1972 (QTA), by which the United States, subject to certain exceptions, has waived its sovereign immunity and has permitted plaintiffs to name it as a party defendant in civil actions to adjudicate title disputes involving real property. After trial, the court entered judgment for the State, holding that the QTA's 12-year statute of limitations, 28 U.S.C. § 2409a(f), does not apply where the plaintiff is a State. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held:

1. The legislative history establishes that Congress intended the QTA to provide the exclusive means by which adverse claimants can challenge the United States' title to real property. Thus there is no merit to North Dakota's contention that even if suit under the QTA is time-barred under § 2409a(f), the judgment below is still correct because the suit is maintainable as an "officer's suit" for injunctive or mandamus relief against the federal officials charged with supervision of the disputed area. The rule that a precisely drawn, detailed statute pre-empts more general remedies is applicable here. Cf. Brown v. GSA, 425 U.S. 820, 96 S.Ct. 1961, 48 L.Ed.2d 402. Pp. 1816-1819.

2. The limitations provision in § 2409a(f) is as fully applicable to a State as it is to all others who sue under the QTA. When Congress attaches

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conditions, such as a statute of limitations, to legislation waiving the United States' sovereign immunity, those conditions must be strictly observed, and exceptions thereto are not to be lightly implied. Section 2409a(f) expressly states that any civil action is time-barred unless filed within 12 years after the date it accrued. Even assuming that the canon of statutory construction that a sovereign is normally exempt from the operation of a generally worded statute of limitations in the absence of express contrary intent has relevance in construing the applicability to the States of a congressionally imposed statute of limitations not expressly including the States, here the legislative history shows that Congress did not intend to exempt the States from compliance with § 2409a(f). Pp. 1819-1821.

3. Nor is § 2409a(f) invalid under the equal-footing doctrine and the Tenth Amendment, as North Dakota asserts. A federal law depriving a State of land vested in it by the Constitution would not be invalid on such grounds, but would constitute a taking of the State's property without just compensation, in violation of the Fifth Amendment. Section 2409a(f), however, does not purport to strip anyone of any property or to effectuate a transfer of title. A dismissal pursuant to the statute does not quiet title to the disputed land in the United States; the title dispute remains unresolved. Thus there is no constitutional infirmity in § 2409a(f). Pp. 1819-1822.

4. If North Dakota's suit is barred by § 2409a(f), the courts below had no jurisdiction to inquire into the merits. Since the lower courts made no findings as to the date on which North Dakota's suit accrued for purposes of the statute, the cases must be remanded for further proceedings. Pp. 1822-1823.

671 F.2d 271 (8th Cir. 1982), reversed and remanded.

COUNSEL

Deputy Solicitor General Claiborne argued the cause for petitioners in No. 81-2337. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Lee, Assistant Attorney General Dinkins, Jacques B. Gelin, and Edward J. Shawaker.

Robert O. Wefald, Attorney General of North Dakota, argued the cause for respondents in No. 81-2337. With him on the brief was Owen L. Anderson.d›

d Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the State of Colorado by J.D. MacFarlane, Attorney General, Charles G. Howe, Deputy Attorney General, Joel W. Cantrick, Solicitor General, Janet L. Miller, First Assistant Attorney General, and Kathleen M. Bowers, Assistant Attorney General; and for the State of California et al. by George Deukmejian, Attorney General of California, N. Gregory Taylor, Assistant Attorney General, Dennis M. Eagan, Bruce S. Flushman, and Joseph Barbieri, Deputy Attorneys General; Charles A. Graddick, Attorney General of Alabama; Norman C. Gorsuch, Attorney General of Alaska, and Michael W. Sewright, Assistant Attorney General; Robert K. Corbin, Attorney General of Arizona, and Anthony Ching, Solicitor General; John Steven Clark, Attorney General of Arkansas; Richard S. Gebelein, Attorney General of Delaware, and J. Calvin Williams, Deputy Attorney General; Jim Smith, Attorney General of Florida; Michael J. Bowers, Attorney General of Georgia; Tany S. Hong, Attorney General of Hawaii; David H. Leroy, Attorney General of Idaho; Tyrone C. Fahner, Attorney General of Illinois; Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General of Iowa; William J. Guste, Jr., Attorney General of Louisiana, and Gary L. Keyser, Assistant Attorney General; Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General of Michigan, and Louis J. Caruso, Solicitor General; Warren Spannaus, Attorney General of Minnesota; Michael T. Greely, Attorney General of Montana; Richard H. Bryan, Attorney General of Nevada; Irwin I. Kimmelman, Attorney General of New Jersey; Robert Abrams, Attorney General of New York; Jan Eric Cartwright, Attorney General of Oklahoma; Dave Frohnmayer, Attorney General of Oregon; LeRoy S. Zimmerman, Attorney General of Pennsylvania; Dennis J. Roberts II, Attorney General of Rhode Island; Daniel R. McLeod, Attorney General of South Carolina; Mark V. Meierhenry, Attorney General of South Dakota, and Roxanne Giedd, Assistant Attorney General; John J. Easton, Jr., Attorney General of Vermont, and John H. Chase, Assistant Attorney General; Kenneth O. Eikenberry, Attorney General of Washington; and A.G. McClintock, Attorney General of Wyoming.

Louis F. Claiborne, Washington, D.C., for petitioners.

Robert O. Wefald, Bismarck, N.D., for respondents.

OPINION

Page 275

Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Under the Quiet Title Act of 1972 (QTA),1 the United States, subject to certain exceptions, [103 S.Ct. 1814] has waived its sovereign

Page 276

immunity and has permitted plaintiffs to name it as a party defendant in civil actions to adjudicate title disputes involving real property in which the United States claims an interest. These cases present two separate issues concerning the QTA. The first is whether Congress intended the QTA to provide the exclusive procedure by which a claimant can judicially challenge the title of the United States to real

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property. The second is whether the QTA's twelve-year statute of limitations, 28 U.S.C. § 2409a(f), is applicable in instances where the plaintiff is a State, such as respondent North Dakota. We conclude that the QTA forecloses the other bases for relief urged by the State, and that the limitations provision is as fully applicable to North Dakota as it is to all others who sue under the QTA.

I

It is undisputed that under the equal footing doctrine first set forth in Pollard's Lessee v. Hagan, 3 How. 212, 11 L.Ed. 565 (1845), North Dakota, like other States, became the owner of the beds of navigable streams in the State upon its admission to the Union. It is also agreed that under the law of North Dakota, a riparian owner has title to the center of the bed of a non-navigable stream. See N.D.Cent.Code § 47-01-15; Amoco Oil Co. v. State Highway Department, 262 N.W.2d 726, 728 (N.D.1978). Because of differing views of navigability, the United States and North Dakota assert competing claims to title to certain portions of the bed of the Little Missouri River within North Dakota. The United States contends that the river is not now and never has been navigable, and it claims most of the disputed area based on its status as riparian landowner. 2 North Dakota, on the other hand, asserts that the river was navigable on October 1, 1889, the date North Dakota attained statehood, and therefore that title to the disputed bed vested in it under the equal footing doctrine on that date. Since at least 1955, the United States has been issuing riverbed oil and gas leases to private entities.

[103 S.Ct. 1815] Seeking to resolve this dispute as to ownership of the riverbed, North Dakota filed this suit in the District Court

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against several federal officials. 3 The State's complaint requested injunctive and mandamus relief directing the defendants to "cease and desist from develop[ing] or otherwise exercising privileges of ownership upon the bed of the Little Missouri River within the State of North Dakota," and it further sought a declaratory judgment "[d]eclaring the Little Missouri River to be a navigable river for the purpose of determining ownership of the bed."...

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