United States v. Tohono O'Odham Nation, No. 09–846.

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtJustice KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.
Citation179 L.Ed.2d 723,563 U.S. 307,131 S.Ct. 1723
Decision Date26 April 2011
Docket NumberNo. 09–846.
Parties UNITED STATES, Petitioner, v. TOHONO O'ODHAM NATION.

563 U.S. 307
131 S.Ct.
1723
179 L.Ed.2d 723

UNITED STATES, Petitioner,
v.
TOHONO O'ODHAM NATION.

No. 09–846.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued Nov. 1, 2010.
Decided April 26, 2011.


Anthony Yang, Washington, DC, for Petitioner.

Danielle Spinelli, Washington, DC, for Respondent.

Neal Kumar Katyal, Acting Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for U.S.

Keith M. Harper, G. William Austin, Catherine F. Munson, Kilpatrick Stockton LLP, Washington, DC, Adam H. Charnes, Kilpatrick Stockton LLP, Winston-Salem, NC, Raymond M. Bennett, Kilpatrick Stockton LLP, Raleigh, NC, Seth P. Waxman, Counsel of Record, Danielle Spinelli, Catherine M.A. Carroll, Annie L. Owens, Sonya L. Lebsack, Wilmer Cutler Pickering, Hale and Dorr LLP, Washington, DC, for Respondent.

Hilary C. Tompkins, Solicitor, Department of the Interior, Washington, DC, Neal Kumar Katyal, Acting Solicitor General, Counsel of Record, Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General, Edwin S. Kneedler, Deputy Solicitor General, Anthony A. Yang, Assistant to the Solicitor General, Aaron P. Avila, Attorney, Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Petitioner.

Justice KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

563 U.S. 309

The Tohono O'Odham Nation is an Indian Tribe with federal recognition. The Nation's main reservation is in the Sonoran desert of southern Arizona. Counting this and other reservation lands, the Nation's landholdings are approximately 3 million acres.

The Nation brought two actions based on the same alleged violations of fiduciary

131 S.Ct. 1727

duty with respect to the Nation's lands and other assets. One action was filed against federal officials in district court and the other against the United States in the Court of Federal Claims (CFC). The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that the CFC suit was not barred by the rule that the CFC lacks jurisdiction over

563 U.S. 310

an action "for or in respect to" a claim that is also the subject of an action pending in another court. 28 U.S.C. § 1500. The question presented is whether a common factual basis like the one apparent in the Nation's suits suffices to bar jurisdiction under § 1500.

I

The case turns on the relationship between the two suits the Nation filed. The first suit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against federal officials responsible for managing tribal assets held in trust by the Federal Government. The complaint alleged various violations of fiduciary duty with respect to those assets. The Nation claimed, for example, that the officials failed to provide an accurate accounting of trust property; to refrain from self-dealing; or to use reasonable skill in investing trust assets. The complaint requested equitable relief, including an accounting.

The next day the Nation filed the instant action against the United States in the CFC. The CFC complaint described the same trust assets and the same fiduciary duties that were the subject of the District Court complaint. And it alleged almost identical violations of fiduciary duty, for which it requested money damages. The CFC case was dismissed under § 1500 for want of jurisdiction.

A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed. 559 F.3d 1284 (2009). Two suits are for or in respect to the same claim, it reasoned, only if they share operative facts and also seek overlapping relief. Finding no overlap in the relief requested, the court held that the two suits at issue were not for or in respect to the same claim.

This Court granted certiorari. 559 U.S. 1066, 130 S.Ct. 2097, 176 L.Ed.2d 721 (2010).

II

Since 1868, Congress has restricted the jurisdiction of the CFC and its predecessors when related actions are pending

563 U.S. 311

elsewhere. Section 1500, identical in most respects to the original statute, provides:

"The United States Court of Federal Claims shall not have jurisdiction of any claim for or in respect to which the plaintiff or his assignee has pending in any other court any suit or process against the United States or any person who, at the time when the cause of action alleged in such suit or process arose, was, in respect thereto, acting or professing to act, directly or indirectly under the authority of the United States."

The rule is more straightforward than its complex wording suggests. The CFC has no jurisdiction over a claim if the plaintiff has another suit for or in respect to that claim pending against the United States or its agents.

The question to be resolved is what it means for two suits to be "for or in respect to" the same claim. Keene Corp. v. United States, 508 U.S. 200, 113 S.Ct. 2035, 124 L.Ed.2d 118 (1993), provided a partial answer. It held that two suits are for or in respect to the same claim when they are "based on substantially the same operative facts ..., at least if there [is] some overlap in the relief requested." Id., at 212, 113 S.Ct. 2035. The Keene case did not decide whether the jurisdictional

131 S.Ct. 1728

bar also operates if the suits are based on the same operative facts but do not seek overlapping relief. Still, Keene narrows the permissible constructions of "for or in respect to" a claim to one of two interpretations. Either it requires substantial factual and some remedial overlap, or it requires substantial factual overlap without more.

Congress first enacted the jurisdictional bar now codified in § 1500 to curb duplicate lawsuits brought by residents of the Confederacy following the Civil War. The so-called "cotton claimants"—named for their suits to recover for cotton taken by the Federal Government—sued the United States in the Court of Claims under the Abandoned Property Collection Act, 12 Stat. 820, while at the same time suing

563 U.S. 312

federal officials in other courts, seeking relief under tort law for the same alleged actions. See Keene, supra, at 206–207, 113 S.Ct. 2035; Schwartz, Section 1500 of the Judicial Code and Duplicate Suits Against the Government and Its Agents, 55 Geo. L.J. 573, 574–580 (1967). Although the rule embodied in § 1500 originated long ago, Congress reenacted the statute at various times, most recently in 1948. See Act of June 25, 1948, 62 Stat. 942; Keene, 508 U.S., at 206–207, 113 S.Ct. 2035.

The text of § 1500 reflects a robust response to the problem first presented by the cotton claimants. It bars jurisdiction in the CFC not only if the plaintiff sues on an identical claim elsewhere—a suit "for" the same claim—but also if the plaintiff's other action is related although not identical—a suit "in respect to" the same claim. The phrase "in respect to" does not resolve all doubt as to the scope of the jurisdictional bar, but "it does make it clear that Congress did not intend the statute to be rendered useless by a narrow concept of identity." Id., at 213, 113 S.Ct. 2035. It suggests a broad prohibition, regardless of whether "claim" carries a special or limited meaning. Cf. United States v. Jones, 131 U.S. 1, 9 S.Ct. 669, 33 L.Ed. 90 (1889) ("claim" in the Little Tucker Act refers only to requests for money).

Of the two constructions of "for or in respect to" the same claim that Keene permits—one based on facts alone and the other on factual plus remedial overlap—the former is the more reasonable interpretation in light of the statute's use of a similar phrase in a way consistent only with factual overlap. The CFC bar applies even where the other action is not against the Government but instead against a "person who, at the time when the cause of action alleged in such suit or process arose, was, in respect thereto, acting or professing to act, directly or indirectly under the authority of the United States." The statute refers to a person who acts under color of federal law in respect to a cause of action at the time it arose. But at that time, the person could not act in respect to the relief requested, for no complaint was yet filed. This use of the phrase "in respect to a cause of action"

563 U.S. 313

must refer to operative facts and not whatever remedies an aggrieved party might later request. A person acts under color of federal law in respect to a cause of action by claiming or wielding federal authority in the relevant factual context.

Although the two phrases are not identical—one is in respect to a claim, the other a cause of action—they are almost so, and there is reason to think that both phrases refer to facts alone and not to relief. As the Keene Court explained, "the term ‘claim’ is used here synonymously with ‘cause of action.’ " 508 U.S., at 210, 113 S.Ct. 2035. And if either of the two phrases were to include both operative facts and a specific remedy, it would be the one that uses the term "cause of action" rather than "claim." "Cause of action" is the more

131 S.Ct. 1729

technical term,...

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413 practice notes
  • N-N v. Mayorkas, 19-CV-5295(EK)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • May 18, 2021
    ...it makes, this reading is clearly at odds with the older regulation's plain text. Cf., e.g. , United States v. Tohono O'Odham Nation, 563 U.S. 307, 317, 131 S.Ct. 1723, 179 L.Ed.2d 723 (2011) ("[C]onsiderations of policy divorced from the statute's text and purpose could not override its me......
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    ...under the authority of the United States.As the Supreme Court recently observed in United States v. Tohono O'Odham Nation, _ U.S. _ , 131 S. Ct. 1723, 1729-30 (2011), section 1500 "effects a significant jurisdictional limitation" on this court, designed to "save the Government from burdens ......
  • Skokomish Indian Tribe v. United States, No. 11-658L
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    ..."based on substantially the same operative facts, regardless of the relief sought in each suit." United States v. Tohono O'Odham Nation, 131 S. Ct. 1723, 1731 (2011); see also Brandt v. United States, 710 F.3d 1369, 1373 (Fed. Cir. 2013); Trusted Integration, 659 F.3d at 1164. This court ha......
  • Altair Global Credit Opportunities Fund (A), LLC v. United States, No. 17-970C
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    • July 13, 2018
    ...property requiring just compensation must proceed in the [United States Court of Federal Claims]." United States v. Tohono O'Odham Nation, 563 U.S. 307, 323 (2011) (Sotomayor, J., concurring); see also E. Enters., 524 U.S. at 521 ("[T]he Declaratory Judgment Act allows individuals threatene......
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410 cases
  • N-N v. Mayorkas, 19-CV-5295(EK)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • May 18, 2021
    ...it makes, this reading is clearly at odds with the older regulation's plain text. Cf., e.g. , United States v. Tohono O'Odham Nation, 563 U.S. 307, 317, 131 S.Ct. 1723, 179 L.Ed.2d 723 (2011) ("[C]onsiderations of policy divorced from the statute's text and purpose could not override its me......
  • Lummi Tribe of the Lummi Reservation v. United States, No. 08-848C
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • August 4, 2011
    ...under the authority of the United States.As the Supreme Court recently observed in United States v. Tohono O'Odham Nation, _ U.S. _ , 131 S. Ct. 1723, 1729-30 (2011), section 1500 "effects a significant jurisdictional limitation" on this court, designed to "save the Government from burdens ......
  • Skokomish Indian Tribe v. United States, No. 11-658L
    • United States
    • Court of Federal Claims
    • March 11, 2014
    ..."based on substantially the same operative facts, regardless of the relief sought in each suit." United States v. Tohono O'Odham Nation, 131 S. Ct. 1723, 1731 (2011); see also Brandt v. United States, 710 F.3d 1369, 1373 (Fed. Cir. 2013); Trusted Integration, 659 F.3d at 1164. This court ha......
  • Altair Global Credit Opportunities Fund (A), LLC v. United States, No. 17-970C
    • United States
    • Court of Federal Claims
    • July 13, 2018
    ...property requiring just compensation must proceed in the [United States Court of Federal Claims]." United States v. Tohono O'Odham Nation, 563 U.S. 307, 323 (2011) (Sotomayor, J., concurring); see also E. Enters., 524 U.S. at 521 ("[T]he Declaratory Judgment Act allows individuals threatene......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 firm's commentaries
  • The Trademark Blues: TTAB Proceedings Do Not Preclude Subsequent Infringement Lawsuits
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    • Mondaq United States
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    ...of action once a court of competent jurisdiction has entered a final judgment on the merits." United States v. Tohono O'Odham Nation, 563 U.S. 307, 315 (2011). Essentially, claim preclusion will enforce a prior judgment precluding a plaintiff from bringing forth claims that were fully litig......
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    ...of action once a court of competent jurisdiction has entered a final judgment on the merits." United States v. Tohono O'Odham Nation, 563 U.S. 307, 315 (2011). Essentially, claim preclusion will enforce a prior judgment precluding a plaintiff from bringing forth claims that were fully litig......

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