United States v. Mitchell

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division

DOCKET NO.: 78-1756
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)

CITATION: 445 US 535 (1980)
ARGUED: Dec 03, 1979
DECIDED: Apr 15, 1980

Charles A. Hobbs - for respondents
Louis F. Claiborne - for petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Mitchell

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 03, 1979 in United States v. Mitchell

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 15, 1980 in United States v. Mitchell

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in United States against Mitchell will be announced by Mr. Justice Marshall.

Thurgood Marshall:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Claims.

The question presented is whether the General Allotment Act of 1887 authorizes the award of money damages against the United States for alleged mismanagement of forest located on lands allotted to Indians under that Act.

In an opinion filed today with the clerk, we hold that the Act does not expose the United States to such liability.

The Act authorizes the President of the United States to allot each Indian residing on a reservation specified acreage of agricultural and grazing land.

Under Section 5 of the Act, the United States retained title to such allotted lands in trust for the benefit of the allottees.

Pursuant to the Act, the Government allotted all of the land in the Quinault Reservation's to individual Indians.

Respondents are individual allottees of land in that reservation, the Quinault tribe which now hold some allotments in unincorporated association of the allottees.

They brought action consolidated in the Court of Claims to recover damages from the Government for alleged mismanagement of timber resources found on the Reservation.

The Court of Claims held that Section 5 of the Act holds a fiduciary duty on the Government to manage timber resources properly and constitutes a waiver of sovereign immunity against a suit for money damages as compensation for breaches of that duty.

We disagree.

We hold that the Act created only a limited trust relationship between the United States and the allottee and that does not impose any duty upon the Government to manage timber resources.

The legislative history of the Act plainly indicates that the trust language of Section 5 was enacted simply to prevent alienation of allotted lands and to ensure that the allottees would be immune from state taxation.

Mr. Justice White has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Brennan and Mr. Justice Stevens has joined.

The Chief Justice took no part in the decision of this case.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Marshall.