United States v. Mitchell
Annotate this Case
463 U.S. 206 (1983)
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U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206 (1983)
United States v. Mitchell
Argued March 1, 1983
Decided June 27, 1983
463 U.S. 206
Respondents -- individuals owning interests in allotted lands on the Quinault Indian Reservation, an unincorporated association of such allottees, and the Quinault Tribe -- filed actions in the Court of Claims seeking to recover damages from the United States for alleged mismanagement of timberlands in the reservation, and asserting that such mismanagement constituted a breach of the fiduciary duty owed respondents by the United States as trustee under various federal statutes and regulations. The court ultimately held the United States subject to suit for money damages on most of respondents' claims, ruling that the federal timber management statutes, various other federal statutes governing roadbuilding, rights-of-way, Indian funds, and Government fees, and the regulations promulgated under these statutes imposed fiduciary duties upon the United States in its management of forested allotted lands.
Held: The United States is accountable in money damages for alleged breaches of trust in connection with its management of forest resources on allotted lands of the Quinault Reservation. Pp. 463 U. S. 211-228.
(a) The Tucker Act provides the United States' consent to suit for claims founded upon statutes or regulations that expressly or implicitly create substantive rights to money damages. Pp. 463 U. S. 211-219.
(b) In contrast to the bare trust created by the General Allotment Act, United States v. Mitchell, 445 U. S. 535, the statutes and regulations upon which respondents have based their money claims clearly give the Federal Government full responsibility to manage Indian resources and land for the Indians' benefit. They thereby establish a fiduciary relationship and define the contours of the United States' fiduciary responsibilities. Moreover, a fiduciary relationship necessarily arises when the Government assumes such elaborate control over forests and property belonging to Indians. All of the necessary elements of a common law trust are present. a trustee (the United States), a beneficiary (the Indian allottees), and a trust corpus (Indian timber, lands, and funds). Because the statutes and regulations at issue clearly establish a fiduciary obligation of the Government in the management and operation of Indian lands and resources, they can fairly be interpreted as mandating compensation by the Government for damages sustained. Given the existence of a trust relationship, it follows that the Government should be liable in damages for the breach of its fiduciary duties. A damages
remedy also furthers the purposes of the statutes and regulations, which clearly require the Secretary of the Interior to manage Indian resources so as to generate proceeds for the Indians. Prospective equitable remedies -- declaratory, injunctive, or mandamus relief -- in the context of this case would be totally inadequate. Pp. 463 U. S. 219-228.
229 Ct.Cl. 1, 664 F.2d 265, affirmed and remanded.
MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 463 U. S. 228.