United States v. Mitchell

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Bleckly County Superior Court

DOCKET NO.: 81-1748
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)

CITATION: 463 US 206 (1983)
ARGUED: Mar 01, 1983
DECIDED: Jun 27, 1983

Charles A. Hobbs - on behalf of the Respondent
Joshua I. Schwartz - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Mitchell

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 01, 1983 in United States v. Mitchell

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 27, 1983 in United States v. Mitchell

Warren E. Burger:

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

Thurgood Marshall:

The issue in this case is whether the United States can be held liable for alleged breaches of trust in connection with its management of forest resources in lands on an Indian Reservation.

Helen Mitchell went out of his only interest in lands on the Quinault Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest filed actions in the Court of Claims seeking to recover damages from the United States.

They alleged that the Government had mismanaged timberlands in the reservation in violation of the fiduciary duty that the United States owed to the Indians as trustees under various federal statutes and regulations.

The Court of Claims held that the United States was subject to suit on most of the Indian's claims.We granted the Government to petition the certiorari and today we affirm the judgment of the Court of Claims.

The United States could not be sued without its consent.

In this case, we recognized that the Government waived its immunity to be sued as a sovereign in the Tucker Act.

Passed in the 19th Century, the Tucker Act gives jurisdiction to the Court of Claims to render judgment upon a wide variety of claims including claims found upon a federal statute or regulation.

We conclude in an opinion filed with the clerk that the statutes and regulations upon which the Indians rely in this case can be interpreted to require compensation for damages resulting from the breach of the duties they impose.

In particular, Congress has given the Secretary of the Interior broad responsibility to manage resources in land belonging to the Indians.

The Secretary has issued broad regulations governing in the timberlands, grant of control is comprehensive.

Where the Federal Government has assumed such control over property belonging to the Indians, a fiduciary relationship necessarily arises.

Moreover, the language of the statutory and regulatory provisions involved in this case support the existence of a trust relationship.

Because a trust relationship exist, the Government should be held liable for breaches of its fiduciary duties.

Unless the Indians can recover the Government mismanagement of their resources, there will be little to deter federal officials from violating their duties and permanent damage to Indian lands with result.

The United States is therefore accountable for its alleged mismanagement.

Justice Powell has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Rehnquist and Justice O'Connor joined.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Justice Marshall.