Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band v. Patchak

PETITIONER:Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians
RESPONDENT:David Patchak
LOCATION: Gun Lake Casino

DOCKET NO.: 11-246
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 567 US (2012)
GRANTED: Dec 12, 2011
ARGUED: Apr 24, 2012
DECIDED: Jun 18, 2012

Eric D. Miller – Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the petitioners in 11-247
Matthew T. Nelson – for the respondents
Patricia A. Millett – for the petitioner in 11-246

Facts of the case

The Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band (“the Band”) is a Potawatomi Indian tribe in Michigan. In 2001, the Band petitioned the Department of Interior to construct and operate a casino in Wayland Township, Michigan, a small farming community with about 3,000 residents. In May 2005, the Bureau of Indian Affairs of the Department of Interior announced its plan to take 147 acres of land in Wayland Township –known as the “Bradley Tract”– into trust for the Band under the Indian Reorganization Act (“IRA”).

David Patchak, a resident of Wayland Township, filed suit against Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior on August 1, 2008, taking advantage of a stay of the Secretary’s action granted due to a separate suit against the Secretary by a Michigan anti-gambling organization. Patchak alleged that the Band’s gaming facility would destroy the peace and quiet of his community, create pollution, and increase crime. The Band intervened as a defendant. At trial, the Secretary argued that the Quiet Title Act (“QTA”) precluded any person from seeking to divest the United States of title to Indian land trusts; hence, because the Bradley Tract was in trust while Patchak’s suit was pending, the district court did not have jurisdiction. The court, however, dismissed Patchak’s suit on the ground that he lacked standing to challenge Palazar’s authority under the IRA, holding that Patchak’s interests do not fall within the IRA’s zone-of-interests.

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed, holding that Patchak fulfilled the zone-of-interests test for standing. The court held that Patchak did not have to demonstrate that the statute was meant to benefit individuals in his situation, pointing to portions of the IRA tasking the Secretary with considering “affected members of the public” before using his trust authority. The court also rejected the Secretary’s argument that the QTA barred Patchak’s suit, reasoning that Congress intended the QTA to limit actions in which the plaintiff claims an interest in property contrary to the government’s interest. In contrast, Patchak did not seek sole possession of title to the Bradley Track. Therefore, the court held that his suit fell within the general waiver of sovereign immunity set forth in the Administrative Procedure Act.


1. Does Patchak lack standing because he does not fall within the zone-of-interests protected by the Indian Reorganization Act?

2. Is Patchak’s suit precluded by sovereign immunity to quiet title claims drawn from the Quiet Title Act?

Media for Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band v. Patchak

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – April 24, 2012 in Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band v. Patchak

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 18, 2012 in Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band v. Patchak

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

In case Number 11-246, Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Potawatomi Indians v. Patchak.

Justice Kagan has the opinion of the Court.

Elena Kagan:

This is a case about sovereign immunity and prudential standing, maybe not what you’ve all come for today.[Laughter]

The question is whether to allow a suit brought by respondent, David Patchak to proceed.

Respondent Patchak owns property in rural Michigan.

He brought suit when the Department of Interior acquired property for an Indian tribe, the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Potawatomi Indians to enable them to build a casino.

Patchak thinks a casino will change the character of the area and cause him economic, environmental, and aesthetic harm and he says the Government lacked the authority, the legal authority, to acquire this land under the Indian Reorganization Act.

So, he asked the Court to reverse the Government’s acquisition of the land by divesting it of title.

When citizens like Patchak contest the legality of agency action and seek non-monetary relief, they bring a suit under a statute called the Administrative Procedure Act or APA.

That Act contains a provision waiving the Government’s sovereign immunity which is the legal doctrine that historically prevents governments from being sued.

But the APA’s waiver of immunity has an exception, when another statute forbids the suit, the APA’s waiver of immunity does not control.

The tribe and the Government contends that in this circumstance another statute called Quiet Title Act does forbid the suit because they say, that’s statute retains the Government’s immunity from any suits challenging the Government’s title to Indian trust lands.

That’s the first question we address in this case.

We reject the Government’s argument because we think the Quiet Title Act addresses a different kind of suit than the one Patchak brought.

The Quiet Title Act is about, this is going to surprise you, but the Quiet Title Act is about quiet title actions.

And a quiet title action is a very particular kind of suit which requires the person suing himself to claim ownership of the land in question.

If Patchak claims to own the land here, the Quiet Title Act would control and it would indeed bar the suit because it prevents quiet title actions involving Indian Lands.

But because Patchak does not claim ownership of the land, he is not bringing a quiet title action and the Quiet Title Act simply has no application.

Instead, the APA’s general waiver of sovereign immunity controls.

But tribe and Government also have another objection to Patchak’s suit that he does not have what we’ve called prudential standing to bring it.

Recall that Patchak says the Government lacked authority to acquire this property under the Indian Reorganization Act.

The prudential standing argument is that Patchak does not fall within what we’ve called the zone-of-interests regulated by that statute and so cannot bring this lawsuit.

That argument depends on the idea that the Indian Reorganization Act is not about land use, but only about land acquisition.

If that were true, Patchak couldn’t bring his suit because it’s only an objection to the way the Band is going — the tribe is going to use the suit.

So, the suit would not be sufficiently connected to the statute that Patchak says was violated, but here, that’s just not true and so we reject the prudential standing argument, too.

The Indian Reorganization Act serves to promote Indian economic development.

So, when the Department decides whether to acquire land for a band or a tribe it thinks a good deal about what the tribe would do with that land, including what potential conflicts the use will create and indeed it did so in this very case.

The upshot is that because the Indian Reorganization Act is about land use, a neighbor who objects to that use has prudential standing to bring an action under the APA.

We accordingly hold that Patchak suit may proceed and because that was the conclusion reached by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, we affirm its judgment.

Justice Sotomayor has filed a dissenting opinion.