United States v. Idaho ex rel. Director, Idaho Dept. of Water Resources

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Idaho ex rel. Director, Idaho Dept. of Water Resources
LOCATION: City of Minneapolis

DOCKET NO.: 92-190
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: Idaho Supreme Court

CITATION: 508 US 1 (1993)
ARGUED: Mar 29, 1993
DECIDED: May 03, 1993

Clive J. Strong - on behalf of the Respondent
Jeffrey Minear - for petitioner
Jeffrey P. Minear - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Idaho ex rel. Director, Idaho Dept. of Water Resources

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 29, 1993 in United States v. Idaho ex rel. Director, Idaho Dept. of Water Resources

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 92-190, the United States v. Idaho on the relation of the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resource.

Mr. Minear, you may proceed.

Jeffrey P. Minear:

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

The question in this case is whether the McCarran Amendment allows the State of Idaho to charge the United States with filing fees to pay for the costs of State water rights adjudication.

This case has its origins in a dispute between the State of Idaho and the Idaho Power Company over the Company's right to use Snake River flows for power development.

Idaho ultimately decided to conduct a general adjudication of all water rights in the Snake River Basin.

And it joined the United States pursuant to the McCarran Amendment, which is set forth at page 2 of our brief.

Congress enacted the McCarran Amendment to allow joinder of the United States in such adjudications, but it specifically provided that the United States is exempt from judgments for costs, which was the mechanism that Idaho and other States commonly used to pay... to pay for those adjudications at that time.

Nevertheless, Idaho has now asserted that it can charge the United States filing fees to the same end, to pay for the adjudication.

We originally estimated that those fees would amount to at least $10 million in this litigation alone.

We have now completed filing our various water rights claims with the Department of Water Resources and it appears that those fees will total at least $30 million.

We challenged Idaho's fee assessments through a writ of mandamus, and the Idaho Supreme Court ultimately held by a vote of 3 to 2 that the McCarran Amendment requires the United States to pay those fees.

We seek reversal of that judgment.

As this Court has repeatedly recognized, the United States is immune from cost and fee assessments unless Congress expressly provides otherwise.

The McCarran Amendment contains no such waiver.

An inspection of the McCarran Amendment's text proves our point.

The first sentence, the so-called joinder provision, allows Idaho to join the United States as a defendant in the Snake River Basin adjudication, but it says nothing about requiring the United States to pay money.

The mere consent to joinder is not consent to pay for the adjudication or to pay for the expenses of other parties.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, Mr. Minear, the last sentence, the proviso, says no judgment for costs shall be entered against the United in such a suit.

Now, is it possible that these fees could be considered costs?

They're paid in advance, but are they the type of fee that could be considered a cost?

Jeffrey P. Minear:

They certainly serve the very same function as a judgment for cost.

In fact, the Idaho code makes that quite clear.

It states, on page 2 of our brief, in order to provide an adequate and equitable cost-sharing formula for financing the costs of adjudicating water rights the Department of Water Resources shall... shall accept no claim... notice of claim, et cetera.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

I found troublesome the Government's argument that the United States isn't bound by any procedural requirements of the State in which the water litigation is conducted.

Jeffrey P. Minear:

Well, with all respect, Your Honor--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

That strikes me as pretty broad.

Jeffrey P. Minear:

--That is... that is not our position.

I think our position is that the McCarran Amendment does not specifically address State procedures.

Now, I think that it's implicit in the join... the notion of joinder that the United States will comply with reasonable procedures of the State.