476 U.S. 834 (1986), 85-546, United States v. Mottaz

Docket Nº:No. 85-546
Citation:476 U.S. 834, 106 S.Ct. 2224, 90 L.Ed.2d 841, 54 U.S.L.W. 4641
Party Name:United States v. Mottaz
Case Date:June 11, 1986
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 834

476 U.S. 834 (1986)

106 S.Ct. 2224, 90 L.Ed.2d 841, 54 U.S.L.W. 4641

United States

v.

Mottaz

No. 85-546

United States Supreme Court

June 11, 1986

Argued April 22, 1986

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Respondent inherited interests in three Indian allotments, title to which was held in trust by the United States. In 1954, the Government sold the allotments to the United States Forest Service despite the lack of express consent from every person who held an interest in the allotments. In 1967, respondent expressed an interest to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in selling her inherited Indian lands, and the BIA provided her with a list of her allotment interests, but did not mention the three allotments that had already been sold. In response to a specific inquiry in 1981, the BIA informed respondent that the allotments had been sold. Respondent then filed suit against the United States in Federal District Court, claiming jurisdiction under, inter alia, the General Allotment Act of 1887 and the Tucker Act, and alleging that the sale of her interests was void. She sought damages equal to the current fair market value of her interests. The District Court ruled that her claims were barred by the general 6-year statute of limitations governing actions against the United States. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that that statute does not bar claims of title to Indian allotments, but that, since the statute of limitations question depended on resolving several preliminary issues, the case would be remanded to the District Court. The Court of Appeals denied the Government's petition for a rehearing wherein the Government claimed that the suit was barred not by the general statute of limitations, but by the 12-year limitations period of the Quiet Title Act of 1972.

Held. Respondent's suit is "a civil action . . . to adjudicate a disputed title to real property in which the United States claims an interest," within the meaning of the Quiet Title Act, and therefore is barred by that Act's 12-year limitations period. Pp. 841-851.

(a) The relief respondent seeks confirms this characterization of her suit. What she seeks is a declaration that she alone possesses valid title to the interests in question and that the title the United [106 S.Ct. 2226] States asserts is defective, and an order requiring the United States to pay her the value of her interests today in order properly to transfer title. The provision of the Quiet Title Act that it "does not apply to trust or restricted Indian lands" operates solely to retain the United States' immunity from suit by third parties challenging the United States' title to land held in trust for

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Indians. Thus, when the United States claims an interest in real property based on its status as trust or restricted Indian lands, the Quiet Title Act does not waive the United States' immunity. But when an Indian plaintiff challenges the United States' assertion of title in its own behalf, the Act applies. The limitations period is a central condition of the consent given by the Act. By 1967, at the very latest, respondent was on notice that the Government did not recognize her title to the allotments in question; this satisfied the provision of the Quiet Title Act that, for purposes of the 12-year limitations period that commences on the date upon which the action accrued, an action shall be deemed to have accrued on the date the plaintiff "should have known" of the United States' claim. Pp. 841-844.

(b) Respondent cannot avoid the Quiet Title Act limitations period by using the General Allotment Act for a quiet title action against the Government. The General Allotment Act grants federal district courts jurisdiction over suits seeking the issuance of an allotment and suits involving an Indian's interests and rights in his allotment after he has acquired it. The Act's structure suggests that it waives the Government's immunity only with respect to the former class of suits. That federal courts may have general subject matter jurisdiction over claims to quiet title to allotments brought by Indians does not therefore mean that the United States has waived its immunity in cases where an Indian challenges the United States' claim of title in its own right. To permit suits against the United States under the General Allotment Act would not only permit plaintiffs to avoid the Quiet Title Act's 12-year limitations period, but also could disrupt ongoing federal programs. Pp. 844-848.

(c) Respondent's action does not fall within the scope of the Tucker Act, and thus her appeal to the Court of Appeals was proper. Pp. 848-851.

753 F.2d 71, reversed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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BLACKMUN, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented by this case is whether respondent's suit against the United States is time-barred. In 1954, the Government sold respondent's interests in three Indian allotments to the United States Forest Service for inclusion in the Chippewa National Forest in Minnesota. Respondent claims that the sale was void. We hold that respondent's suit is an action "to adjudicate a disputed title to real property in which the United States claims an interest," within the meaning of the Quiet Title Act of 1972, 28 U.S.C. § 2409a(a), and therefore is barred by that Act's 12-year period of limitations. See 28 U.S.C. § 2409a(f).

I

In 1905, pursuant to the General Allotment Act of 1887, 24 Stat. 388, as amended, 25 U.S.C. § 331 et seq. (1982 ed. and Supp. II), and the Nelson Act of 1889, 25 Stat. 642, three Chippewa Indian ancestors of respondent Florence Blacketter Mottaz each received an 80-acre allotment on the Leech Lake Reservation in Cass County, [106 S.Ct. 2227] Minn.1 Title to each of these allotments was held in trust by the United States. Respondent eventually inherited a one-fifth interest in one of the allotments, and a one-thirtieth interest in each of the other two.

In the early 1950's, some holders of fractional interests in Leech Lake allotments petitioned the Department of the Interior to permit them to sell their lands.2 On April 30, 1953,

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the Department's Office of Indian Affairs sent respondent two forms, captioned "Consent to Sale of Inherited Lands." App. 42, 43.3 Accompanying the forms was a letter which read in part:

As stated before, some of the owners have requested the sale of this land. Both land and timber, if any, have been appraised; and as soon as we get the consent to sell, an effort will be made to obtain a buyer by advertising for sale bids. This land will not be sold unless the high bid is equal to, or more than, the appraised value. If no reply is received from you within ten (10) days, it will be assumed that you have no objection to the sale.

Id. at 15. The consent forms indicated that one of the allotments was appraised at $420.50 and the other at $605.75. Respondent neither replied to the letter nor returned the consent forms. In 1954, despite the lack of express consent from every person who held an interest in any of the three allotments, the Government sold them to the United States Forest Service.

Respondent visited the regional office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in May, 1967, and expressed an interest in selling her inherited Indian lands. Later that month, the realty officer sent her a letter informing her of her allotment interests. The letter did not mention the Leech Lake allotments. Id. at 17. Respondent in 1981 again requested a list of her interests. In its reply, the Bureau set forth the allotments currently held in trust for her and, in addition, noted that she once had held interests in the Leech Lake allotments which had been sold by the Secretary as part of the so-called "Secretarial Transfer" program. Id. at 44-45.4

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II

In 1981, respondent filed suit against the United States in the Federal District Court for the District of Minnesota. She claimed jurisdiction under 25 U.S.C. § 345, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1346, 1353, and 2415, and the Fifth Amendment. App. 7. She alleged that the sales of her three Leech Lake allotments "made without [her] consent or permission . . . were, therefore, illegal sales and transfers and are void." Id. at 8. In addition, respondent raised four other claims regarding the sale: that the United States had breached its fiduciary duty in selling lands held in trust for her without first obtaining her consent; that the United States had acted negligently in selling her lands; that she had been deprived of property without due process; and that her property had been taken for public use without just compensation. Id. at 10. Respondent also sought to represent both a nationwide and a Minnesota-based class of similarly situated Indian claimants. Id. at 8-9.

[106 S.Ct. 2228] Respondent originally sought either "[d]amages in a monetary sum equal to the current fair market value of each parcel illegally transferred" or

rescission of the illegal sale or transfer and the vesting of title of each individual parcel in the names of the appropriate descendants, heirs and assigns.

Id. at 10. After a preliminary hearing, she voluntarily dismissed, without prejudice, her claim requesting rescission. Id. at 12.

The District Court ruled that respondent's claims were barred by 28 U.S.C. § 2401(a), the general statute of limitations governing actions against the United States. That section

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provides, in pertinent part, that

every civil action commenced against the United States shall be barred unless the complaint is filed within six years after the right of action first accrues.

The court held that respondent's cause of action first accrued when she learned of the sale of the lands. Since respondent's deposition "clearly reveal[ed] that she had knowledge of the sale in...

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