463 U.S. 206 (1983), 81-1748, United States v. Mitchell

Docket Nº:No. 81-1748.
Citation:463 U.S. 206, 103 S.Ct. 2961, 77 L.Ed.2d 580
Party Name:UNITED STATES, Petitioner v. Helen MITCHELL et al.
Case Date:June 27, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court

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463 U.S. 206 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 2961, 77 L.Ed.2d 580



Helen MITCHELL et al.

No. 81-1748.

United States Supreme Court.

June 27, 1983

Argued March 1, 1983.

[103 S.Ct. 2962] Syllabus[*]


Respondents--individuals owning interests in allotted lands on the Quinault Indian Reservation, an unincorporated association of such allotees, and the Quinault Tribe--filed actions in the Court of Claims seeking to recover damages from the United States for alleged mismanagement of timber lands in the reservation, and asserting that such mismanagement constituted a breach of the fiduciary duty owed respondents by the United States as trustee under various federal statutes and regulations. The court ultimately held the United States subject to suit for money damages on most of respondents' claims, ruling that the federal timber management statutes, various other federal statutes governing road building, rights-of-way, Indian funds, and Government fees, and the regulations promulgated under these statutes imposed fiduciary duties upon the United States in its management of forested allotted lands.

Held: The United States is accountable in money damages for alleged breaches of trust in connection with its management of forest resources on allotted lands of the Quinault Reservation. Pp. 2965-2974.

(a) The Tucker Act provides the United States' consent to suit for claims founded upon statutes or regulations that expressly or implicitly create substantive rights to money damages. Pp. 2965-2969.

(b) In contrast to the bare trust created by the General Allotment Act, United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 100 S.Ct. 1349, 63 L.Ed.2d 607, the statutes and regulations upon which respondents have based their money claims clearly give the Federal Government full responsibility to manage Indian resources and land for the Indians' benefit. They thereby establish a fiduciary relationship and define the contours of the United States' fiduciary responsibilities. Moreover, a fiduciary relationship necessarily arises when the Government assumes such elaborate control over forests and property belonging to Indians. All of the necessary elements of a common-law trust are present: a trustee (the United States), a beneficiary (the Indian allottees), and a trust corpus (Indian timber, lands, and funds). Because the statutes and regulations at issue clearly establish a fiduciary obligation of the Government in the management and operation of Indian lands and resources, they can fairly be interpreted as mandating compensation by the Government for damages sustained. Given the existence of a trust relationship, it follows that the Government [103 S.Ct. 2963] should be liable in damages for the breach of its fiduciary duties. A damages

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remedy also furthers the purposes of the statutes and regulations, which clearly require the Secretary of the Interior to manage Indian resources so as to generate proceeds for the Indians. Prospective equitable remedies--declaratory, injunctive, or mandamus relief--in the context of this case would be totally inadequate. Pp. 2969-2974.

229 Ct.Cl. 1, 664 F.2d 265, 1981, affirmed and remanded.


Joshua I. Schwartz argued the cause for the United States. With him on the briefs were Solicitor General Lee, Assistant Attorney General Dinkins, Deputy Solicitor General Claiborne, and Thomas H. Pacheco.

Charles A. Hobbs argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief wasJerry C. Straus.*

* Reid Peyton Chambers, Harry R. Sachse, Kenneth J. Guido, Jr., Donald J. Simon, Richard W. Hughes, George Forman, David Rapport, Robert J. Nordhaus, George E. Fettinger, and Steven L. Bunch filed a brief for the Shoshone Tribe of the Wind River Indian Reservation et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance.

Joshua I. Schwartz, Washington, D.C., rtz, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Charles A. Hobbs, Washington, D.C., for respondents.


Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The principal question in this case is whether the United States is accountable in money damages for alleged breaches of trust in connection with its management of forest resources on allotted lands of the Quinault Indian Reservation.



In the 1850s, the United States undertook a policy of removing Indian tribes from large areas of the Pacific Northwest in order to facilitate the settlement of non-Indians. 1

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Pursuant to this policy, the first Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs of the Washington Territory began negotiations in 1855 with various tribes living on the west coast of the Territory. The negotiations culminated in a treaty between the United States and the Quinault and Quileute Tribes, 12 Stat. 971 (Treaty of Olympia). In the Treaty the Indians ceded to the United States a vast tract of land on the Olympic Peninsula in the State of Washington, and the United States agreed to set aside a reservation for the Indians.

In 1861 a reservation of about 10,000 acres was provisionally chosen for the tribes. 2 This tract proved undesirable because of its limited size and heavy forestation. The Quinault Agency superintendent subsequently recommended that since the coastal tribes drew their subsistence almost entirely from the water,3 they should be collected on a reservation suitable for their fishing needs. Acting on this suggestion, President Grant issued an order on November 4, 1873, designating about 200,000 acres along the Washington coast as an Indian reservation. 4 The vast bulk of this land consisted of rain forest covered with huge, coniferous trees.

In 1905 the Federal Government began to allot the Quinault Reservation in trust to individual Indians under the General Allotment Act of 1887, ch. 119, 24 Stat. 388, as amended, 25 U.S.C. § 331 et seq.5 See also the Quinault Allotment Act

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of March 4, 1911, 36 Stat. 1345. The Government initially determined that the forested areas of the Reservation were not to be allotted because they were not suitable for agriculture or grazing. In 1924, however, this Court concluded that the character of lands [103 S.Ct. 2964] to be set apart for the Indians was not restricted by the General Allotment Act. United States v. Payne, 264 U.S. 446, 449, 44 S.Ct. 352, 353, 68 L.Ed. 782 (1924). Thereafter, the forested lands of the Reservation were allotted. By 1935 the entire Reservation had been divided into 2,340 trust allotments, most of which were 80 acres of heavily timbered land. About a third of the Reservation has since gone out of trust, but the bulk of the land has remained in trust status. 6

The forest resources on the allotted lands have long been managed by the Department of the Interior, which exercises "comprehensive" control over the harvesting of Indian timber. White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker, 448 U.S. 136, 145, 100 S.Ct. 2578, 2584, 65 L.Ed.2d 665 (1980). The Secretary of the Interior has broad statutory authority over the sale of timber on reservations. See 25 U.S.C. §§ 405-407. Sales of timber "must be based upon a consideration of the needs and best interests of the Indian owner and his heirs," § 406(a), and the proceeds from such sales are to be used for the benefit of the Indians or transferred to the Indian owner, §§ 406(a), 407. Congress has directed the Secretary to adhere to principles of sustained-yield forestry on all Indian forest lands under his supervision. 25 U.S.C. § 466. Under these statutes, the Secretary has promulgated detailed regulations governing the management of Indian timber. 25 CFR Part 163 (1982). The Secretary is authorized to deduct an administrative fee for his services from the timber revenues paid to Indian allottees. 25 U.S.C.§§ 406(a), 413.

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The respondents are 1,465 individuals owning interests in allotments on the Quinault Reservation, an unincorporated association of Quinault Reservation allottees, and the Quinault Tribe, which now holds some portions of the allotted lands. In 1971 respondents filed four actions that were consolidated in the Court of Claims. Jurisdiction was based on 28 U.S.C. §§ 1491 and 1505. Respondents sought to recover damages from the United States based on allegations of pervasive waste and mismanagement of timber lands on the Quinault Reservation. More specifically, respondents claimed that the Government (1) failed to obtain a fair market value for timber sold; (2) failed to manage timber on a sustained-yield basis; (3) failed to obtain any payment at all for some merchantable timber; (4) failed to develop a proper system of roads and easements for timber operations and exacted improper charges from allottees for maintenance of roads; (5) failed to pay any interest on certain funds from timber sales held by the Government and paid insufficient interest on other funds; and (6) exacted excessive administrative fees from allottees. Respondents assert that the alleged misconduct constitutes a breach of the fiduciary duty owed them by the United States as trustee under various statutes.

Six years after the suits were filed, the United States moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, contending that the Court of Claims had no authority over claims based on a breach of trust. The court denied the motion, holding that the General Allotment Act created a fiduciary duty on the United States' part to manage the timber resources properly and thereby provided the necessary authority for recovery of damages against the United States. 219 Ct.Cl. 95, 591 F.2d 1300 (1979) (en banc ).

In United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 100 S.Ct. 1349, 63 L.Ed.2d 607 (1980), this Court reversed the ruling of the Court of Claims, stating that the General Allotment Act "created only a limited trust relationship between the United States and the allottees that does

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not impose any duty upon the Government to manage timber resources." Id., at 542, 100 S.Ct., at...

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