Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho

RESPONDENT: Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho
LOCATION: Larned State Hospital

DOCKET NO.: 94-1474
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 521 US 261 (1997)
ARGUED: Oct 16, 1996
DECIDED: Jun 23, 1997

Clive J. Strong - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Clive Strong - for petitioners
Raymond C. Givens - Argued the cause for the respondents

Facts of the case

The Coeur d'Alene Tribe (the Tribe) of Idaho filed an action against the State of Idaho, various state agencies, and numerous state officials alleging ownership of the submerged lands and bed of Lake Coeur d'Alene and various navigable tributaries and effluents lying within the original boundaries of the Coeur d'Alene Reservation. The Tribe sought a declaratory judgment establishing its entitlement to the exclusive use and occupancy and the right to quiet enjoyment of the submerged lands, a declaration of the invalidity of all Idaho laws, customs, or usages purporting to regulate those lands, and a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting defendants from taking any action in violation of the Tribe's rights in the lands. Ultimately, the District Court dismissed all the components of the complaint on Eleventh Amendment immunity grounds, for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and on the merits. The Court of Appeals affirmed that the Eleventh Amendment barred all claims against the State and its agencies, as well as the title action against the officials. However, it allowed the claims for declaratory and injunctive relief against the state officials to proceed insofar as they sought to preclude continuing violations of federal law. The court reasoned that those claims were based on Idaho's ongoing interference with the Tribe's alleged ownership rights, and found it conceivable that the Tribe could prove facts entitling it to relief on the claims.


May Indian Tribes proceed with suits against state officials in light of the sovereign immunity provided by the Eleventh Amendment?

Media for Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 16, 1996 in Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 23, 1997 in Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho

The opinion of the Court in No. 94-1474, Idaho versus Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

One of the nation's most beautiful lake is Lake Coeur d'Alene in northern Idaho.

The ultimate issue in this suit is the ownership and control of the bed in the submerged lands of that lake and -- and of the banks, and of the submerged lands of some of its tributaries.

The Coeur d'Alene Indian tribe contends the tribe owns these lands and the officials named in this suit say the State of Idaho has ownership.

The question before us here however is not the ownership question but an important preliminary matter bearing on the jurisdiction and the authority of the federal courts.

The Eleventh Amendment by its terms prohibits certain suits against the State and federal courts.

The question here is whether the amendment applies, so that this suit must be dismissed in the federal court and proceeds anew in the state court.

The tribe claims that its federal suit comes within certain exceptions, we have found the Eleventh Amendment, so that the suit may be maintained in federal court.

The tribe brought suit not against the State itself but against certain state officials and it sought not damages but perspective, injunctive, and declaratory relief.

It's sued in the United States District Court for the District of Idaho and named states officials charged with jurisdiction and regulation of the Lake and the disputed lands.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit put aside the State's Eleventh Amendment objections and ruled the State could go forward.

We granted certiorari to resolve the issue and we now reverse.

The suit is barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

The rule which allows suits for perspective relief against officials named as individual stems from ex parte Young.

This 1908 decision by the Court is -- is well-known to students of federal jurisdiction and the tribe argues that its suit is within the Ex parte Young doctrine.

We disagree.

Not every part of the opinion I have written commands dissent from a majority of the justices, but the most parts that do command a majority, we explain first that we adhere to our most recent cases on the subject in particular our 1997 opinion in Seminole Tribe versus Florida.

We hold further that it would undercut or undermine the Eleventh Amendment to apply the Ex parte rule -- Young here.

We ruled that the tribe suit is the functional equivalent of a quiet title action.

This implicates special interest of state sovereignty.

The suit would diminish or even extinguish the State's control over a vast reach of lands and waters long deemed by the State of Idaho to be an integral part of its territory.

To pass this off is a judgment causing little or no offense to Idaho's sovereign authority and its standing in the Union would be to ignore the realities of the relief the Tribes seeks.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is therefore reversed.

The case is remanded for proceedings consistent with the opinion.

Justice O'Connor has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

She is joined in that opinion by justices, Scalia and Thomas.

Justice Souter has filed a dissenting opinion, in that opinion, he is joined by justices, Stevens, Ginsburg and Breyer.