United States v. Mottaz

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Southhampton County Circuit Court

DOCKET NO.: 85-546
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 476 US 834 (1986)
ARGUED: Apr 22, 1986
DECIDED: Jun 11, 1986

Derck Amerman - on behalf of Respondent
Edwin S. Kneedler - on behalf of Petitioner
Leonard A. Zolna - for respondent

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Mottaz

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 22, 1986 in United States v. Mottaz

Warren E. Burger:

We'll here arguments next in United States versus Mottaz.

Mr. Kneedler, I think you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Edwin S. Kneedler:

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

This case concerns the application of statutes of limitations to suits brought by Indians against the United States.

Although there are a number of sub-issues in the case, the central question before this Court is whether there is an implied exception that renders inapplicable to some or all suits brought by Indians the statutes of limitations that govern suits against the United States as a general matter.

Two such provisions are involved in this case.

The first is the 12-year statute of limitations for suits brought under the Quiet Title Act.

The second is the six-year statute of limitations is Section 2401 of Title 28, which applies to other civil actions--

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Mr. Kneedler, before you get into that, this is a suit to recover money damages, isn't it?

Edwin S. Kneedler:

--It's a suit to recover money damages in terms of the relief that's requested, but the Respondent and the Court of Appeals have treated the request for money damages as the equivalent of a request for the return of the land itself, on the premise that the land is now situated within the Chippewa National Forest and that Respondent should, in the Court of Appeals' words, should,

"as a matter of policy, should be able to force the United states to pay money rather than to return the land. "

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Well, to the extent it is a suit for money damages, isn't it a Tucker Act suit?

Edwin S. Kneedler:

If viewed as a suit for money damages, it would be, although the theory of a Tucker Act suit is somewhat different than the one--

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Well, may I ask, if it is a Tucker Act suit, doesn't the Tucker Act require this appeal to go to the Federal Circuit rather than the Eighth Circuit?

Edwin S. Kneedler:

--Yes, to the extent it--

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Then why shouldn't we just vacate and send it back with instructions to send it to the Federal Circuit?

Edwin S. Kneedler:

--To the extent it would be a Tucker Act suit, that would be appropriate.

But Respondent has insisted that the underlying theory of the suit is a contesting of the title of the United States to the land, and she has sought money only as an election of remedies.

And she hasn't... the way the case has been structured, it hasn't been damages as a remedy for something that occurred in 1954.

She's seeking... in which event the money judgment would be calculated on the basis of the value of the land or her injury in '54.

She has sought money in the amount of the current fair market value of the land?

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And how much is that?

How much is sought?

I couldn't find in the record the dollars claimed, the amount in controversy.

Edwin S. Kneedler:

There is not a specification of that.

I would assume that it would be--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, doesn't that... isn't that important to know for purposes of knowing whether the district court jurisdiction or Claims Court jurisdiction was appropriate?

Edwin S. Kneedler:

--For those purposes, it would be.

We have not suggested that the value of Respondent's interest in the land exceeds $10,000.

Her own interest is a one-fifth interest in one allotment and a one-thirtieth interest in two other allotments.