Nevada v. United States
Annotate this Case
463 U.S. 110 (1983)
U.S. Supreme Court
Nevada v. United States, 463 U.S. 110 (1983)
Nevada v. United States
Argued April 27, 1983
Decided June 24, 1983*
463 U.S. 110
In 1913, the United States sued in Federal District Court, in what is known as the Orr Ditch litigation, to adjudicate water rights to the Truckee River for the benefit of both the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation (Reservation) and the Newlands Reclamation Project (Project). Named as defendants were all water users on the Truckee River in Nevada. Eventually, in 1944, the District Court entered a final decree, pursuant to a settlement agreement, awarding various water rights to the Reservation and the Project, which by this time was now under the management of the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District (TCID). In 1973, the United States filed the present action in the same District Court on behalf of the Reservation, seeking additional rights to the Truckee River, and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe (Tribe) was permitted to intervene in support of the United States. Named as defendants were all persons presently claiming water rights to the Truckee River and its tributaries in Nevada, including the defendants in the Orr Ditch litigation and their successors, individual farmers who owned land in the Project, and the TCID. The defendants asserted res judicata as an affirmative defense, claiming that the United States and the Tribe were precluded by the Orr Ditch decree from litigating the asserted claim. The District Court sustained the defense and dismissed the complaint. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the Orr Ditch decree concluded the dispute between, on the one hand, the Orr Ditch defendants, their successors in interest, and subsequent appropriators of the Truckee River, and, on the other hand, the United States and the Tribe, but not the dispute between the Tribe and the Project landowners. The court found that, since neither the Tribe nor the Project landowners were parties in Orr Ditch, but instead were represented by the United States, and since their interests may have conflicted in that proceeding, it could not be found that the United States had intended to bind these nonparties inter se, absent a specific statement of adversity in the pleadings.
Held: Res judicata prevents the United States and the Tribe from litigating the instant claim. Pp. 463 U. S. 121-145.
(a) Where the Government represented the Project landowners in Orr Ditch, the landowners, not the Government, received the beneficial interest in the water rights confirmed to the Government. Ickes v. Fox, 300 U. S. 82; Nebraska v. Wyoming, 325 U. S. 589. Therefore, the Government is not at liberty to simply reallocate the water rights decreed to the Reservation and the Project as if it owned those rights. Pp. 463 U. S. 121-128.
(b) The cause of action asserted below is the same cause of action that was asserted in the Orr Ditch case. The record in that case, including the final decree and amended complaint, clearly shows that the Government was given an opportunity to litigate the Reservation's entire water rights to the Truckee River, and that the Government intended to take advantage of that opportunity. Pp. 463 U. S. 130-134.
(c) All of the parties below are bound by the Orr Ditch decree. The United States, as a party to the Orr Ditch litigation acting as a representative for the interests of the Reservation and the Project, cannot relitigate the Reservation's water rights with those who could use the Orr Ditch decree as a defense. The Tribe, whose interests were represented in Orr Ditch by the United States, also is bound by the Orr Ditch decree, as are the Orr Ditch defendants and their successors. Moreover, under circumstances where, after the Orr Ditch litigation was commenced, the legal relationships were no longer simply those between the United States and the Tribe, but were also those between the United States, TCID, and the Project landowners, the interests of the Tribe and the Project landowners were sufficiently adverse so that both are now bound by the Orr Ditch decree. It need not be determined what the effect of the Government's representation of different interests would be under the law of private trustees and fiduciaries, for that law does not apply where Congress has decreed that the Government have dual responsibilities. The Government does not "compromise" its obligation to one interest that Congress obliges it to represent when it simultaneously performs another task for another interest that Congress has obligated it by statute to do. And as to the defendants below who appropriated water from the Truckee River subsequent to the Orr Ditch decree, they too, as a necessary exception to the res judicata mutuality requirement, can use that decree against the plaintiffs below. These defendants have relied just as much on that decree in participating in the development of western Nevada as have the parties in the Orr Ditch case, and any other conclusion would make it impossible finally to quantify a reserved water right. Pp. 463 U. S. 134-144.
649 F.2d 1286 and 666 F.2d 351, affirmed in part and reversed in part.
REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 463 U. S. 145.
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