Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo v. Laney

Decision Date10 January 2000
Docket NumberNo. 98-50575,98-50575
Citation199 F.3d 281
Parties(5th Cir. 2000) Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. David Laney; Robert L. Nichols; Anne S. Wynne; Eddie Sanchez; and Rudy Lugo, Defendants-Appellants
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas

Before KING, Chief Judge, REYNALDO G. GARZA, and EMILIO M. GARZA, Circuit Judges.

REYNALDO G. GARZA, Circuit Judge:


Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo (the "Tribe" or the "Pueblo"), a federally recognized Indian Tribe, filed suit in federal district court, seeking to eject David M. Laney, Robert L. Nichols, Anne S. Wynne, Eddie Sanchez, and Rudy Lugo, present commissioners of the Texas Transportation Commission, and two employees of the Texas Department of Transportation, in their individual capacities ("Appellants"), from a piece of real property (the "Property") which currently serves as a highway maintenance facility in El Paso County, Texas. The tribe also requested that the Appellants remove their equipment and "all hazardous and environmentally damaging material" from the Property. The Pueblo alleges that the Appellants are trespassing in violation of federal law.

The Pueblo is an indigenous Native American Tribe that was originally situated in Isleta [anglicized spelling], New Mexico, where from time to time it received population accretions from the Pueblos of Abu, Quari, and Grand Quivara.1 In 1680, during the Pueblo Revolt, a portion of the Pueblo migrated south with retreating Spaniards and occupied camps in the present day El Paso vicinity. In 1682, Spanish Governor Otermin attempted to reconquer New Mexico, attacking the Isleta Pueblo, reducing it to his control and relocating it to the El Paso area with the Pueblo members who had fled New Mexico in 1680. In 1682, the Pueblo was situated at its present site in what is now El Paso County, Texas.

In 1751, the Governor of New Mexico granted land, including the Property, to the Pueblo. Neither its legal title nor aboriginal right to the Property was ever terminated by the Kingdom of Spain, the Republic of Mexico, or the Republic of Texas, the successive governments claiming sovereignty over the area including the Property prior to the United States.2 In 1845, Texas was admitted to the Union, sparking the Mexican-American War, which ending in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Article VIII of the treaty guaranteed the protection of the title held by Mexican citizens to land in the United States, and members of the Tribe were, at the time the treaty was signed, Mexican citizens.

The Pueblo contends that between 1846 and 1850, the federal government acknowledged the Tribe's interest in its lands. Nonetheless, the State of Texas (the "State"), evidently claiming or believing it held title, relinquished the Tribe's land, including the Property, to a municipality. The Property was at some later time conveyed back to the State, and the State is the current title holder of record. The Pueblo argues that the State's action violated the Trade and Intercourse Act, referred to as the Indian Nonintercourse Act (the "NIA").3 It claims that because of the violation of the NIA, the State's relinquishment of the Property and all subsequent conveyances are null and void, making Appellants' continued occupation of the Property illegal.

Appellants filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In the motion, they asserted that the suit is barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution.4 In an order entered January 26, 1999, the district court denied the motion after concluding that "Congress clearly intended to abrogate the States' Eleventh Amendment immunity when it enacted the Nonintercourse Act and Congress has the power to do so under the Indian Commerce Clause."5


This court has jurisdiction, under the collateral order doctrine, to entertain an appeal of the denial of a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss based upon a claim of Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. See Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 141 (1993). We review "Eleventh Amendment immunity determinations, like other questions of subject matter jurisdiction, de novo as a question of law." United States v. Texas Tech Univ., 171 F.3d 279, 288 (5th Cir. 1999).


We hold that the State of Texas enjoys immunity, under the Eleventh Amendment, from a suit instituted by an Indian Pueblo alleging a cause of action arising under the NIA, 25 U.S.C. 177. The Eleventh Amendment constitutes an important limitation on federal authority to review allegedly illegal or unconstitutional actions of state governments and their officers. And yet, our federal system requires that we protect state autonomy while promoting state compliance with federal law. Consequently, several methods of circumventing the Eleventh Amendment's prohibition against suing states in federal court have arisen. Under the Eleventh Amendment, a state enjoys immunity from a suit instituted in a federal court by an Indian tribe,6 unless the state expressly waives its sovereign immunity,7 its immunity is properly abrogated by Congress,8 or the suit "falls within the exception . . . recognized for certain suits seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against state officers in their individual capacities."9 The Eleventh Amendment's applicability to this case turns on whether this is a suit against the State, and if so, whether Congress validly abrogated state sovereign immunity in the NIA or whether the Pueblo may proceed under the doctrine of Ex parte Young.10 We hold that this is a suit against the State, that Congress did not abrogate state sovereign immunity in the NIA, and that the Pueblo may not proceed under the Ex parte Young doctrine.


First, before we analyze the issue of congressional abrogation of state immunity, we must determine whether the instant suit is one against the State. Often, suits stating a cause of action under a particular statute name both the state and state officials, in their individual capacities. Under those circumstances, a plaintiff mounts an attack against the state by arguing that the statute at issue abrogates sovereign immunity. If the court finds valid abrogation, both prospective and retroactive relief are available against the state. If however, the particular statute has not properly abrogated state sovereign immunity, the plaintiff may nevertheless challenge the action of the state officials under the Ex parte Young doctrine, for prospective relief. See, e.g., Seminole Tribe v. Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 47 (1996) (unsuccessfully arguing both abrogation against the state and the doctrine of Ex parte Young against a state official).

In the instant case, the Pueblo has not expressly named the State of Texas or one of its agencies as a defendant, but rather only certain state officials. In Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89 (1984), the Supreme Court examined whether a suit against state officials, alleging a violation of state law and seeking prospective relief, could be maintained under the doctrine of Ex parte Young. In deciding that it could not, the Court discussed whether the suit was actually against the State:

There may be a question, however, whether a particular suit in fact is a suit against the State . . . .

When the suit is brought only against state officials, a question arises as to whether that suit is a suit against the State itself. Although prior decisions of this Court have not been entirely consistent on this issue, certain principles are well established. The Eleventh Amendment bars a suit against state officials when the state is the real, substantial party in interest. Thus, [t]he general rule is that relief sought nominally against an officer is in fact against the sovereign if the decree would operate against the latter. . .

The Court has recognized an important exception to this general rule: a suit challenging the constitutionality of a state officials's action is not one against the State. This was the holding of Ex parte Young . . . .

Id. at 101-102 (footnote, citations, and internal quotation marks omitted and emphasis added). The Court explained in a footnote: "The general rule is that a suit is against the sovereign if the judgment sought would expend itself on the public treasury or domain, or interfere with the public administration, or if the effect of the judgment would be to restrain the Government from acting, or to compel it to act." Id. at 101 n.11.

For purposes of addressing congressional abrogation of immunity, we recognize that the State is the true party of interest in this case, although it has not been expressly named as a defendant. The State is the real party of interest because the State holds record title to the Property, utilizes the Property as a maintenance facility, and the Pueblo is attempting to persuade us to declare that title null and void. For purposes of deciding whether the Ex parte Young doctrine is applicable in the instant case, we acknowledge that the state officials are named in their individual capacities. See, e.g., Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445 (1976) (letting stand a lower court decision granting prospective relief and addressing abrogation for purposes of retrospective relief in a case naming only state officials as defendants). As the Court stated in Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene, 521 U.S. 261, 270 (1997), "The real interests served by the Eleventh Amendment are not to be sacrificed to elementary mechanics of captions and pleadings."


Having determined that this is a suit against the State, we now address the question of whether Congress validly abrogated state sovereign immunity in the NIA. We hold that Congress has not. To validly abrogate state...

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