Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho

Decision Date23 June 1997
Docket Number941474
Citation138 L.Ed.2d 438,521 U.S. 261,117 S.Ct. 2028
PartiesIDAHO, et al., Petitioners, v. COEUR d'ALENE TRIBE OF IDAHO, etc., et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus *

Alleging ownership in the submerged lands and bed of Lake Coeur d'Alene and various of its navigable tributaries and effluents lying within the original boundaries of the Coeur d'Alene Reservation (the submerged lands), the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and various of its members (collectively, the Tribe) filed this federal-court action against the State of Idaho, various state agencies, and numerous state officials in their individual capacities. The Tribe sought, inter alia, a declaratory judgment establishing its entitlement to the exclusive use and occupancy and the right to quiet enjoyment of the submerged lands, a declaration of the invalidity of all Idaho laws, customs, or usages purporting to regulate those lands, and a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting defendants from taking any action in violation of the Tribe's rights in the lands. The District Court dismissed the suit, but the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. As here relevant, the latter court agreed with the District Court that the Eleventh Amendment barred all claims against the State and its agencies, as well as the quiet title action against the officials. However, it found the doctrine of Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714, applicable and allowed the claims for declaratory and injunctive relief against the officials to proceed insofar as they sought to preclude continuing violations of federal law. The court reasoned that those claims are based on Idaho's ongoing interference with the Tribe's alleged ownership rights, and found it conceivable that the Tribe could prove facts entitling it to relief on the claims.

Held: The judgment is reversed in part, and the case is remanded.

42 F.3d 1244, reversed in part and remanded.

Justice KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II-A, and III, concluding that the Tribe's suit against the state officials may not proceed in federal court. Pp. ____-____, ____-____.

(a) Because States enjoy Eleventh Amendment immunity in suits by Indian tribes, Blatchford v. Native Village of Noatak, 501 U.S. 775, 782, 111 S.Ct. 2578, 2582-2583, 115 L.Ed.2d 686, the present suit is barred unless it falls within the exception this Court has recognized for certain suits seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against state officers in their individual capacities, see, e.g., Ex parte Young, supra. The Court does not question the continuing validity of the Young doctrine, but acknowledges that questions will arise as to its proper scope and application. In resolving these questions, the Court must ensure that the sovereign immunity doctrine remains meaningful, while also giving recognition to the need to prevent violations of federal law. In a suit commenced against such officials, even if they are named and served as individuals, the State itself will have a continuing interest in the litigation whenever state policies or procedures are at stake. See, e.g., Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 114, n. 25, 104 S.Ct. 900, 915, n. 25, 79 L.Ed.2d 67. Pp. ____-____.

(b) The Tribe may not avoid the Eleventh Amendment bar and avail itself of the Young exception in this action. In support of Young's applicability, the Tribe alleges an on-going violation of its property rights under federal law, seeks prospective injunctive relief, and attempts to rely on the plurality decision in Florida Dept. of State v. Treasure Salvors, Inc., 458 U.S. 670, 102 S.Ct. 3304, 73 L.Ed.2d 1057. The latter case is not helpful because the state officials there were acting beyond their state-conferred authority, id., at 696-697, 102 S.Ct., at 3320-3321, a theory the Tribe does not even attempt to pursue in this case. Moreover, although a request for prospective relief from an allegedly on-going federal-law violation is ordinarily sufficient to invoke the Young fiction, this case is unusual in that the Tribe's suit is the functional equivalent of a quiet title implicating special sovereignty interests. This is especially troubling when coupled with the far-reaching and invasive relief the Tribe seeks, which would shift substantially all benefits of ownership and control of vast areas from the State to the Tribe, and thereby entail consequences going well beyond those typically present in a real property quiet title action. Furthermore, the requested relief would divest the State of its control over lands underlying navigable waters, which have historically been considered uniquely "sovereign lands,'' see, e.g., Utah Div. of State Lands v. United States, 482 U.S. 193, 195-198, 107 S.Ct. 2318, 2320-2322, 96 L.Ed.2d 162, title to which is conferred on the States by the Constitution itself, see Oregon ex rel. State Land Bd. v. Corvallis Sand & Gravel Co., 429 U.S. 363, 374, 97 S.Ct. 582, 589, 50 L.Ed.2d 550. Indeed, Idaho law views its interest in the submerged lands in such terms. Under these particular and special circumstances, the Young exception is inapplicable. The dignity and status of its statehood allows Idaho to rely on its Eleventh Amendment immunity and to insist upon responding to these claims in its own courts, which are open to hear and determine the case. Pp. ____-____.

KENNEDY, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II-A, and III, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and THOMAS, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts II-B, II-C, and II-D, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which SCALIA and THOMAS, JJ., joined. SOUTER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, GINSBURG and BREYER, JJ., joined.

Clive Strong, Boise, ID, for petitioners.

Raymond C. Givens, Coeur d'Alene, ID, for respondents.

Justice KENNEDY announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II-A, and III, and an opinion with respect to Parts II-B, II-C, and II-D, in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins.

In the northern region of Idaho, close by the Coeur d'Alene Mountains which are part of Bitterroot Range, lies tranquil Lake Coeur d'Alene. One of the Nation's most beautiful lakes, it is some 24 miles long and 1 to 3 miles wide. The Spokane River originates here and thence flows west, while the Lake in turn is fed by other rivers and streams, including Coeur d'Alene River which flows to it from the east, as does the forested Saint Joe River which begins high in the Bitterroots and gathers their waters along its 130-mile journey. To the south of the lake lies the more populated part of the Coeur d'Alene Reservation. Whether the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's ownership extends to the banks and submerged lands of the lake and various of these rivers and streams, or instead is vested in the State of Idaho, is the underlying dispute. We are limited here, however, to the important, preliminary question whether the Eleventh Amendment bars a federal court from hearing the Tribe's claim.

I

Alleging ownership in the submerged lands and bed of Lake Coeur d'Alene and of the various navigable rivers and streams that form part of its water system, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, a federally recognized tribe, together with various individual tribe members sued in federal court. As there is no relevant distinction between the Tribe and those of its members who have joined the suit, for purposes of the issue we decide, we refer to them all as the Tribe. The Coeur d'Alene Reservation consists of some 13,032 acres of tribal land, 55,583 acres of allotted land, and 330 Government owned acres. Statistical Record of Native North Americans 53 (M. Raddy ed. 1995). The Tribe claimed the beneficial interest, subject to the trusteeship of the United States, in the beds and banks of all navigable watercourses and waters (the "submerged lands'') within the original boundaries of the Coeur d'Alene Reservation, as defined by Executive Order on November 8, 1873. Executive Order of November 8, 1873, reprinted in 1 C. Kappler, Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties 837 (1904). The area in dispute includes the banks and beds and submerged lands of Lake Coeur d'Alene and some portions of the various rivers and streams we have described. In the alternative, the Tribe claimed ownership of the submerged lands pursuant to unextinguished aboriginal title. A state forum was available, see Idaho Code §5-328 (1990), but the Tribe brought this action in the United States District Court for the District of Idaho.

The suit named the State of Idaho, various state agencies, and numerous state officials in their individual capacities. In addition to its title claims, the Tribe further sought a declaratory judgment to establish its entitlement to the exclusive use and occupancy and the right to quiet enjoyment of the submerged lands as well as a declaration of the invalidity of all Idaho statutes, ordinances, regulations, customs or usages which purport to regulate, authorize, use or affect in any way the submerged lands. Finally, it sought a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting defendants from regulating, permitting or taking any action in violation of the Tribe's rights of exclusive use and occupancy, quiet enjoyment and other ownership interest in the submerged lands along with an award for costs and attorney's fees and such other relief as the court deemed appropriate.

The defendants moved to dismiss the Tribe's complaint on Eleventh Amendment immunity grounds and for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court held the Eleventh Amendment barred the claims against Idaho and the agencies. It concluded further that the action against the officials for...

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