United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation

Facts of the Case

Respondent Jicarilla Apache Nation’s (Tribe) reservation contains natural resources that are developed pursuant to statutes administered by the Interior Department. Proceeds from these resources are held by the United States in trust for the Tribe. The Tribe filed a breach-of-trust action in the Court of Federal Claims (CFC), seeking monetary damages for the Government’s alleged mismanagement of the Tribe’s trust funds in violation of


Does the attorney-client privilege entitle the United States to withhold from an Indian tribe confidential communications between the government and government attorneys implicating the administration of statutes pertaining to property held in trust for the tribe?


Yes. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the lower court order in an opinion by Justice Samuel Alito. The fiduciary exception to the attorney-client privilege does not apply to the general trust relationship between the United States and the Indian tribes, Alito wrote. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, arguing that the majority decision rests on false factual and legal premises and deprives the Nation and other Indian tribes of highly relevant evidence in scores of pending cases seeking relief for the Government’s alleged mismanagement of their trust funds. Justice Elena Kagan did not take part in consideration of the case.

Case Information

  • Citation: 564 US _ (2011)
  • Granted: Jan 7, 2011
  • Argued: Apr 20, 2011
  • Decided Jun 13, 2011