Arizona v. California

RESPONDENT: California
LOCATION: 4035 West Van Buren St

DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)

CITATION: 530 US 392 (2000)
ARGUED: Apr 25, 2000
DECIDED: Jun 19, 2000

Jeffrey P. Minear - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States
Jerome C. Muys - Argued the cause for the state parties
Mason D. Morisset - Argued the cause for the Quechan Indian Tribe

Facts of the case

In 1952, Arizona invoked the U.S. Supreme Court's original jurisdiction to resolve a dispute with California over the extent of each state's right to use water from the Colorado River. The United States intervened, seeking water rights on behalf of five Indian reservations. Culminating in Arizona I, the Court held that the United States had reserved water rights for the five reservations. In a 1964 decree, the Court specified the water entitlements for the parties and the reservations, but held that the water rights for the reservations would be subject to adjustment in the event that the reservations' disputed boundaries were finally determined. Thereafter in Arizona II, the Court concluded that the reservations' boundaries had yet to be determined. Ultimately, the Quechan Tribe (Tribe) of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation and the United States entered an agreement returning land encompassing some 25,000 acres of disputed boundary lands not attributed to that reservation in earlier litigation. In 1983, the Court of Claims consented to the settlement. The Tribe and the United States then filed claims seeking increased water rights for the Fort Yuma Reservation. In 1989, the Court granted the motion of Arizona, California, and two municipal water districts (State parties) to reopen the 1964 decree to determine whether the Fort Yuma Reservation was entitled to claim additional boundary lands and, if so, additional water rights. The State parties asserted that the Fort Yuma claims of the Tribe and the United States were precluded by Arizona I and by the Claims Court consent judgment.


Are the Quechan Tribe and the United States claims for increased water rights for the Fort Yuma Reservation from the Colorado River precluded by the Supreme Court's prior decision in Arizona v. California and by a consent judgement?

Media for Arizona v. California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 25, 2000 in Arizona v. California

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 19, 2000 in Arizona v. California

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 08 Orig. Arizona v. California will be announced by Justice Ginsburg.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

This original action, now nearly a half-century old, concerns rights to water from the Colorado River system.

We have already issued two opinions in this case; one in 1963 and the second in 1983.

In this third installment of the litigation, the Quechan Tribe and the United States on the Tribe’s behalf, claimed rights to additional water for the Quechan Tribes Reservation.

The States of Arizona and California together with two municipal water districts urged an opposition that these additional water rights claims are made too late.

Specifically, they urged that the further adjudication sought by the United States and the Tribe is foreclosed either by this Court’s 1963 decision in this case or by a consent judgment entered in 1983 by the United States Claims Court in an action brought by the Tribe against United States.

The Special Master recommended that we reject the first ground for refusing to consider the Tribe’s eligibility for additional river water, but accept the second.

We reject both grounds for precluding further proceedings.

First, we need not decide whether our 1963 decision would bar the present claims, but we hold that the state parties have forfeited their preclusion defense by failing to raise it earlier in the litigation despite ample opportunity and cause to do so.

We next consider and reject the Special Master’s conclusion that the 1983 Claims Court consent judgment, extinguished the Tribe’s claim to title in the disputed lands.

As between the Tribe and the United States, the consent judgment did indeed preclude litigation of all claims and defenses that had been or could have been brought.

But consent judgments do not involve the actual litigation and judicial determination of specific issues.

Therefore consent judgments ordinarily do not preclude the litigation of such issues in discreet actions against third parties.

That is particularly true, where as in this case, the consent judgment is ambiguous as between mutually exclusive theories of recovery.

Finally, we accept the Master’s recommendation concerning water rights claims for two other Indian Reservations and approve the party’s proposed settlements with respect to those reservations.

The Chief Justice has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, joined by Justice O’Connor and Justice Thomas.