United States v. Mitchell, No. 78-1756

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtMARSHALL
Citation100 S.Ct. 1349,63 L.Ed.2d 607,445 U.S. 535
PartiesUNITED STATES, Petitioner, v. Helen MITCHELL et al
Docket NumberNo. 78-1756
Decision Date15 April 1980

445 U.S. 535
100 S.Ct. 1349
63 L.Ed.2d 607
UNITED STATES, Petitioner,

v.

Helen MITCHELL et al.

No. 78-1756.
Argued Dec. 3, 1979.
Decided April 15, 1980.
Rehearing Denied June 2, 1980.

See 446 U.S. 992, 100 S.Ct. 2979.

Syllabus

Section 1 of the Indian General Allotment Act of 1887 authorizes the President to allot to each Indian residing on a reservation specified acreage of agricultural and grazing land within the reservation; § 2 provides that all such allotments shall be selected by the Indians so as to include improvements made by them; and § 5 provides that the United States shall retain title to such allotted lands in trust for the benefit of the allottees. Pursuant to the Act, the Government allotted all of the Quinault Reservation's land in trust to individual Indians. Respondents, individual allottees of land in that Reservation, the Quinault Tribe, which now holds some allotments, and an association of allottees, brought actions, consolidated in the Court of Claims, to recover damages from the Government for alleged mismanagement of timber resources found on the Reservation. Denying the Government's motion to dismiss the actions on the alleged ground that it had not waived its sovereign immunity with respect to the asserted claims, the Court of Claims held that the General Allotment Act created a fiduciary duty on the United States' part to manage the timber resources properly and constituted a waiver of sovereign immunity against a suit for money damages as compensation for breaches of that duty.

Held : The General Allotment Act cannot be read as establishing that the United States has a fiduciary responsibility for management of allotted forest lands, and thus does not provide respondents with a cause of action for the damages sought. Pp. 538-546.

(a) Neither the Tucker Act, under which the individual claimants premised jurisdiction in the Court of Claims, nor § 24 of the Indian Claims Commission Act, on which jurisdiction over the Tribe's claim was based, confers a substantive right against the United States to recover money damages. Pp. 538-540.

(b) The General Allotment Act created only a limited trust relationship between the United States and the allottee that does not impose any duty upon the Government to manage timber resources. The language of § 5 of the Act must be read in pari materia with the language of §§ 1 and 2, both of which indicate that the Indian allottee, and not a representative of the United States, is responsible for using the land for agricultural or grazing purposes. The Act's legislative history also

Page 536

indicates that the trust Congress placed on allotted lands is of limited scope, it appearing that when Congress enacted the Act it intended that the United States hold the lands in trust not because it wished the Government to control use of the lands and be subject to money damages for breaches of fiduciary duty, but simply because it wished to prevent alienation of the lands and to ensure that allottees would be immune from state taxation. Furthermore, certain events surrounding and following the Act's passage indicate that it should not be read as authorizing, much less requiring, the Government to manage timber resources for the benefit of Indian allottees. Pp. 540-546.

219 Ct.Cl. 95, 591 F.2d 1300, reversed and remanded.

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

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

Mr. Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether the Indian General Allotment Act of 1887 authorizes the award of money damages against the United States for alleged mismanagement of forests located on lands allotted to Indians under that Act.

I

In 1873, a Reservation was established by Executive Order in the State of Washington for the Quinault Tribe. 1 C. Kappler, Indian Affairs 923 (2d ed. 1904.) Much of the land within the Reservation was forested. By 1935, acting under the authority of the General Allotment Act of 1887, ch. 119, 24 Stat. 388, as amended, 25 U.S.C. § 331 et seq., the Government had allotted all of the Reservation's land in trust

Page 537

to individual Indians. Other enactments of Congress require the Secretary of the Interior to manage these forests, sell the timber, and pay the proceeds of such sales, less administrative expenses, to the allottees.1

The respondents are 1,465 individual allottees of land contained in the Quinault Reservation, the Quinault Tribe, which now holds some allotments, and the Quinault Allottees Association, an unincorporated association formed to promote the interests of the allottees of the Quinault Reservation. In four actions consolidated in the Court of Claims, the respondents sought to recover damages from the Government for alleged mismanagement of timber resources found on the Reservation. The respondents asserted that the Government: (1) failed to obtain fair market value for timber sold; (2) failed to manage timber on a sustained-yield basis and to rehabilitate the land after logging; (3) failed to obtain payment 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 roads; (5) failed to pay interest on certain funds and paid insufficient interest on other funds; and (6) exacted excessive administrative charges from allottees. The respondents contended that they were entitled to recover money damages because this alleged misconduct breached a fiduciary duty owed to them by the United States as trustee of the allotted lands under the General Allotment Act.

The United States moved to dismiss the respondents' actions on the ground that it had not waived its sovereign

Page 538

immunity with respect to the claims raised. The Court of Claims, sitting en banc, denied the Government's motion. 219 Ct.Cl. 95, 591 F.2d 1300 (1979). Reasoning that Government mismanagement of the kind alleged breaches the Government's fiduciary duty under the General Allotment Act, the court held that the Act provides Indian allottees a cause of action for money damages against the United States.

We granted certiorari, 442 U.S. 940, 99 S.Ct. 2880, 61 L.Ed.2d 309 (1979), and now reverse and remand.

II

It is elementary that "[t]he United States, as sovereign, is immune from suit save as it consents to be sued . . ., and the terms of its consent to be sued in any court define that court's jurisdiction to entertain the suit." United States v. Sherwood, 312 U.S. 584, 586, 61 S.Ct. 767, 769-770, 85 L.Ed. 1058 (1941). A waiver of sovereign immunity "cannot be implied but must be unequivocally expressed." United States v. King, 395 U.S. 1, 4, 89 S.Ct. 1501, 1503, 23 L.Ed.2d 52 (1969). In the absence of clear congressional consent, then, "there is no jurisdiction in the Court of Claims more than in any other court to entertain suits against the United States." United States v. Sherwood, supra, 312 U.S., at 587-588, 61 S.Ct., at 770.

The individual claimants in this action premised jurisdiction in the Court of Claims upon the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1491, which gives that court jurisdiction of "any claim against the United States founded either upon the Constitution, or any Act of Congress." The Tucker Act is "only a jurisdictional statute; it does not create any substantive right enforceable against the United States for money damages." United States v. Testan, 424 U.S. 392, 398, 96 S.Ct. 948, 953, 47 L.Ed.2d 114 (1976). The Act merely "confers jurisdiction upon [the Court of Claims] whenever the substantive right exists." Ibid. The individual claimants, therefore, must look beyond the jurisdictional statute for a waiver of sovereign immunity with respect to their claims.

The same is true for the tribal claimant. Jurisdiction over

Page 539

its claims was based on § 24 of the Indian Claims Commission Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1505. That provision states:

"The Court of Claims shall have jurisdiction of any claim against the United States accruing after August 13, 1946, in favor of any tribe, band, or other identifiable group of American Indians residing within the territorial limits of the United States or Alaska whenever such claim is one arising under the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States, or Executive orders of the President, or is one which otherwise would be cognizable in the Court of Claims if the claimant were not an Indian tribe, band or group."

By enacting this statute, Congress plainly intended to give tribal claimants the same access to the Court of Claims provided to individuals by the Tucker Act. The House Committee Report stated:

"As respects claims accruing after its adoption this bill confers jurisdiction on the Court of Claims to determine and adjudicate any tribal claim of a character which would be cognizable in the Court of Claims if the claimant were not an Indian tribe. In such cases the claimants are to be entitled to recover in the same manner, to the same extent, and subject to the same conditions and limitations, and the United States shall be entitled to the same defenses, both at law and in equity, . . . as in cases brought in the Court of Claims by non-Indians under section 145 of the Judicial Code [now 28 U.S.C. § 1491], as amended." H.R.Rep.No. 1466, 79th Cong., 1st Sess., 13 (1945).

See also Hearings on H.R.1198 and H.R.1341 before the House Committee on Indian Affairs, 79th Cong., 1st Sess., 149 (1945) (statement of Assistant Solicitor Cohen); H.R.Rep.No.352, 81st Cong., 1st Sess., 15-16 (1949) (recodifying the statute).

Page 540

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1505, then, tribal claimants have the same access to the Court of Claims provided to individual claimants by 28 U.S.C. § 1491, and the United States is entitled to the same defenses at law and in equity under both statutes. It follows that 28 U.S.C. § 1505 no more confers a substantive right against the United...

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1919 practice notes
  • Chavez v. United States, CIV 21-0872-JB-SCY
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • 25 Octubre 2021
    ...(10th Cir. 1990)). “A waiver of sovereign immunity ‘cannot be implied and must be unequivocally expressed.'” United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980)(quoting United States v. King, 395 U.S. 1, 4, 89 (1969)). See United States v. Nordic Vill., Inc., 503 U.S. at 33-34; United State......
  • General Electric Company v. Whitman, Civil Action No. 00-2855 (JDB) (D. D.C. 3/31/2003), Civil Action No. 00-2855 (JDB).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • 31 Marzo 2003
    ...must be "unequivocally expressed," United States v. Nordic Village, Inc., 503 U.S. 30, 33 (1992) (quoting United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980)), and are to be "construed strictly in favor of the sovereign," id. (quoting McMahon v. United States, 342 U.S. 25, 27 Congress amend......
  • Pollinger v. U.S., Civil Action No. 06-1885 (CKK).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • 25 Marzo 2008
    ...and the terms of its consent to be sued in any court define that court's jurisdiction to entertain that suit." United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538, 100 S.Ct. 1349, 63 L.Ed.2d 607 (1980) (citation omitted). Moreover, "a waiver of sovereign immunity `cannot be implied but must be une......
  • United States v. Mottaz, No. 85-546
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • 11 Junio 1986
    ..."[a] waiver of sovereign immunity 'cannot be lightly implied but must be unequivocally expressed.' " United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538, 100 S.Ct. 1349, 1351, 63 L.Ed.2d 607 (1980), quoting United States v. King, 395 U.S. 1, 4, 89 S.Ct. 1501, 1502, 23 L.Ed.2d 52 (1969). Congress h......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1909 cases
  • Chavez v. United States, CIV 21-0872-JB-SCY
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • 25 Octubre 2021
    ...(10th Cir. 1990)). “A waiver of sovereign immunity ‘cannot be implied and must be unequivocally expressed.'” United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980)(quoting United States v. King, 395 U.S. 1, 4, 89 (1969)). See United States v. Nordic Vill., Inc., 503 U.S. at 33-34; United State......
  • General Electric Company v. Whitman, Civil Action No. 00-2855 (JDB) (D. D.C. 3/31/2003), Civil Action No. 00-2855 (JDB).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • 31 Marzo 2003
    ...be "unequivocally expressed," United States v. Nordic Village, Inc., 503 U.S. 30, 33 (1992) (quoting United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538 (1980)), and are to be "construed strictly in favor of the sovereign," id. (quoting McMahon v. United States, 342 U.S. 25, 27......
  • Pollinger v. U.S., Civil Action No. 06-1885 (CKK).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • 25 Marzo 2008
    ...the terms of its consent to be sued in any court define that court's jurisdiction to entertain that suit." United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538, 100 S.Ct. 1349, 63 L.Ed.2d 607 (1980) (citation omitted). Moreover, "a waiver of sovereign immunity `cannot be implied but must ......
  • United States v. Mottaz, No. 85-546
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • 11 Junio 1986
    ..."[a] waiver of sovereign immunity 'cannot be lightly implied but must be unequivocally expressed.' " United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538, 100 S.Ct. 1349, 1351, 63 L.Ed.2d 607 (1980), quoting United States v. King, 395 U.S. 1, 4, 89 S.Ct. 1501, 1502, 23 L.Ed.2d 52 (1969). ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • Sovereign Immunity and State Regulation of Federal Facilities and Tribes
    • United States
    • The Clean Water Act and the Constitution. Legal Structure and the Public's Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment Part I
    • 20 Abril 2009
    ...F.2d 968, 973 (2d Cir. 1983). 18. Department of Energy v. Ohio, 503 U.S. 607, 612, 22 ELR 20804 (1992) (citing United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 538-39 (1980)); Beamon , 125 F.3d at 967; Preferred Risk Mutual Ins. Co. , 86 F.3d at 792, cert. denied , 520 U.S. at 1116; Alaska v. Babbi......
  • Environmental Protection in Indian Country: The Fundamentals
    • United States
    • Environmental Law Reporter Nbr. 47-11, November 2017
    • 1 Noviembre 2017
    ...that created the compensable right to recover money damages. 17. 463 U.S. 206 (1983) ( Mitchell II ); see also United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535 (1980) ( Mitchell I ) (holding that General Allotment Act created only a bare trust, no duty to control timber resources, no right to money ......

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