California v. United States

PETITIONER: California
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Sable Communications of California

DOCKET NO.: 87-1165
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 490 US 920 (1989)
ARGUED: Nov 28, 1988
DECIDED: Jun 12, 1989

Dale T. White - on behalf of the Tribal Respondents
Edwin S. Kneedler - on behalf of the Federal Respondents
Jerome C. Muys - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case


Media for California v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 28, 1988 in California v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning on No. 87-1165, California v. the United States.

Mr. Muys, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Jerome C. Muys:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case is the latest chapter in the ten-year effort of the states of California and Arizona and several of their public agencies to obtain a judicial determination of the disputed boundaries of the Fort Mojave, Colorado River, and Fort Yuma Indian Reservations on the lower Colorado River in order to remove a cloud on the title to 104,000 acre-feet of water, which is presently being used by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, to serve the needs of over 500,000 citizens in its service area.

The water rights of the three reservations were originally adjudicated by this Court in 1963 in Arizona against California I.

The United States subsequently sought additional water for the three reservations, and in 1983 in this Court's decision in Arizona against California II the Court rejected the United States' claims for the additional 104,000 acre-feet of water because it was based on claims stemming from the Secretary of the Interior's subsequent ex parte reinterpretation and expansion of the boundaries of the three reservations without affording the state parties notice or an opportunity to participate.

And none of those decisions ever received any judicial review.

The state parties had urged in 1983 that this Court decide the boundary disputes.

But the Court directed us to reinstitute, reactivate the then-pending suit in the Southern District of California, which the state parties had brought to determine the disputed boundaries.

Was that an APA action?

Was that--

Jerome C. Muys:

Yes, we had sought review under Section 702--

--Review the decision of the Secretary?

Jerome C. Muys:

--To review the boundary decisions of the Secretary under Section 702 of the APA.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Whom do you represent?

Jerome C. Muys:

The Petitioners, Metropolitan Water District, California, Coachella in the State of Arizona.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

So you represent the state--

Jerome C. Muys:


The state parties.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

--And does the state intervene?

Jerome C. Muys:

The state says, as the Court directed, the States of California and Arizona were added as parties to the suit originally brought by Metropolitan and Coachella Water Districts.

After the case was reactivated, the United States withdrew its defense of sovereign immunity.

Taking up the Fort Mojave dispute first, the District Court voided the Secretary's boundary order, finding it in excess of his statutory authority, and as depriving, having deprived Metropolitan of due process.

William H. Rehnquist:

This was tried in the Southern District of California?

Jerome C. Muys:

Yes, in San Diego.

The United States and the tribes were granted interlocutory appeals by the Ninth Circuit on those two substantive issues, but when they reached the Ninth Circuit they resurrected their previously-abandoned sovereign immunity in standing defenses before the Ninth Circuit.

The Ninth Circuit held that the state party suit was essentially a suit to quiet title, to Indian trust lands, and therefore barred by the Quiet Title Act.

It also held that even if our suit were viewed as essentially a water rights suit, as we contend, that nevertheless the McCarran Amendment consent to suit provisions were inapplicable, because we were not seeking a complete adjudication of all the water rights in the lower Colorado River.

And thirdly, it strongly indicated, but didn't decide, that Metropolitan lacked standing.

Let me emphasize what the state parties are seeking in their action.