United States v. Mottaz
Annotate this Case
476 U.S. 834 (1986)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Mottaz, 476 U.S. 834 (1986)
United States v. Mottaz
Argued April 22, 1986
Decided June 11, 1986
476 U.S. 834
Respondent inherited interests in three Indian allotments, title to which was held in trust by the United States. In 1954, the Government sold the allotments to the United States Forest Service despite the lack of express consent from every person who held an interest in the allotments. In 1967, respondent expressed an interest to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in selling her inherited Indian lands, and the BIA provided her with a list of her allotment interests, but did not mention the three allotments that had already been sold. In response to a specific inquiry in 1981, the BIA informed respondent that the allotments had been sold. Respondent then filed suit against the United States in Federal District Court, claiming jurisdiction under, inter alia, the General Allotment Act of 1887 and the Tucker Act, and alleging that the sale of her interests was void. She sought damages equal to the current fair market value of her interests. The District Court ruled that her claims were barred by the general 6-year statute of limitations governing actions against the United States. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that that statute does not bar claims of title to Indian allotments, but that, since the statute of limitations question depended on resolving several preliminary issues, the case would be remanded to the District Court. The Court of Appeals denied the Government's petition for a rehearing wherein the Government claimed that the suit was barred not by the general statute of limitations, but by the 12-year limitations period of the Quiet Title Act of 1972.
Held. Respondent's suit is "a civil action . . . to adjudicate a disputed title to real property in which the United States claims an interest," within the meaning of the Quiet Title Act, and therefore is barred by that Act's 12-year limitations period. Pp. 476 U. S. 841-851.
(a) The relief respondent seeks confirms this characterization of her suit. What she seeks is a declaration that she alone possesses valid title to the interests in question and that the title the United States asserts is defective, and an order requiring the United States to pay her the value of her interests today in order properly to transfer title. The provision of the Quiet Title Act that it "does not apply to trust or restricted Indian lands" operates solely to retain the United States' immunity from suit by third parties challenging the United States' title to land held in trust for
Indians. Thus, when the United States claims an interest in real property based on its status as trust or restricted Indian lands, the Quiet Title Act does not waive the United States' immunity. But when an Indian plaintiff challenges the United States' assertion of title in its own behalf, the Act applies. The limitations period is a central condition of the consent given by the Act. By 1967, at the very latest, respondent was on notice that the Government did not recognize her title to the allotments in question; this satisfied the provision of the Quiet Title Act that, for purposes of the 12-year limitations period that commences on the date upon which the action accrued, an action shall be deemed to have accrued on the date the plaintiff "should have known" of the United States' claim. Pp. 476 U. S. 841-844.
(b) Respondent cannot avoid the Quiet Title Act limitations period by using the General Allotment Act for a quiet title action against the Government. The General Allotment Act grants federal district courts jurisdiction over suits seeking the issuance of an allotment and suits involving an Indian's interests and rights in his allotment after he has acquired it. The Act's structure suggests that it waives the Government's immunity only with respect to the former class of suits. That federal courts may have general subject matter jurisdiction over claims to quiet title to allotments brought by Indians does not therefore mean that the United States has waived its immunity in cases where an Indian challenges the United States' claim of title in its own right. To permit suits against the United States under the General Allotment Act would not only permit plaintiffs to avoid the Quiet Title Act's 12-year limitations period, but also could disrupt ongoing federal programs. Pp. 476 U. S. 844-848.
(c) Respondent's action does not fall within the scope of the Tucker Act, and thus her appeal to the Court of Appeals was proper. Pp. 476 U. S. 848-851.
753 F.2d 71, reversed.
BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.