United States v. Mitchell
Annotate this Case
445 U.S. 535 (1980)
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U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535 (1980)
United States v. Mitchell
Argued December 3, 1979
Decided April 15, 1980
445 U.S. 535
Section 1 of the Indian General Allotment Act of 1877 authorizes the President to allot to each Indian residing on a reservation specified acreage of agricultural and grazing land within the reservation; § 2 provides that all such allotments shall be selected by the Indians so as to include improvements made by them; and § 5 provides that the United States shall retain title to such allotted lands in trust for the benefit of the allottees. Pursuant to the Act, the Government allotted all of the Quinault Reservation's land in trust to individual Indians. Respondents, individual allottees of land in that Reservation, the Quinault Tribe, which now holds some allotments, and an association of allottees, brought actions, consolidated in the Court of Claims, to recover damages from the Government for alleged mismanagement of timber resources found on the Reservation. Denying the Government's motion to dismiss the actions on the alleged ground that it had not waived its sovereign immunity with respect to the asserted claims, the Court of Claims held that the General Allotment Act created a fiduciary duty on the United States' part to manage the timber resources properly, and constituted a waiver of sovereign immunity against a suit for money damages as compensation for breaches of that duty.
Held: The General Allotment Act cannot be read as establishing that the United States has a fiduciary responsibility for management of allotted forest lands, and thus does not provide respondents with a cause of action for the damages sought. Pp. 445 U. S. 538-546.
(a) Neither the Tucker Act, under which the individual claimants premised jurisdiction in the Court of Claims, nor § 24 of the Indian Claims Commission Act, on which jurisdiction over the Tribe's claim was based, confers a substantive right against the United States to recover money damages. Pp. 445 U. S. 538-540.
(b) The General Allotment Act created only a limited trust relationship between the United States and the allottee that does not impose any duty upon the Government to manage timber resources. The language of § 5 of the Act must be read in pari materia with the language of §§ 1 and 2, both of which indicate that the Indian allottee, and not a representative of the United States, is responsible for using the land for agricultural or grazing purposes. The Act's legislative history also
indicates that the trust Congress placed on allotted lands is of limited scope, it appearing that, when Congress enacted the Act, it intended that the United States hold the lands in trust not because it wished the Government to control use of the lands and be subject to money damages for breaches of fiduciary duty, but simply because it wished to prevent alienation of the lands and to ensure that allottees would be immune from state taxation. Furthermore, certain events surrounding and following the Act's passage indicate that it should not be read as authorizing, much less requiring, the Government to manage timber resources for the benefit of Indian allottees. Pp. 445 U. S. 540-546.
219 Ct.Cl. 95, 591 F.2d 1300, reversed and remanded.
MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN ad STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 445 U. S. 546. BURGER, C.J., took no part in the decision of the case.