FROM THE ARCHIVE

Excerpts: U.S. v. White Mountain Apache Tribe

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TUESDAY, MARCH 4, 2003

Following are excerpts from the Supreme Court's opinion in U.S. v. White Mountain Apache Tribe, No. 01-1067, decided March 4, 2003.

From the Majority [Souter]:
"The 1960 Act goes beyond a bare trust and permits a fair inference that the Government is subject to duties as a trustee and liable in damages for breach. The statutory language, of course, expressly defines a fiduciary relationship3 in the provision that Fort Apache be 'held by the United States in trust for the White Mountain Apache Tribe.'

. . .

While it is true that the 1960 Act does not . . . expressly subject the Government to duties of management and conservation, the fact that the property occupied by the United States is expressly subject to a trust supports a fair inference that an obligation to preserve the property improvements was incumbent on the United States as trustee. This is so because elementary trust law, after all, confirms the commonsense assumption that a fiduciary actually administering trust property may not allow it to fall into ruin on his watch. 'One of the fundamental common-law duties of a trustee is to preserve and maintain trust assets'"

From the Dissent [Thomas]:
"If Congress intended to create a compensable trust relationship between the United States and the Tribe with respect to the Fort Apache property, it provided no indication to this effect in the text of the 1960 Act. Accordingly, I would hold that the 1960 Act created only a “bare trust” between the United States and the Tribe.

. . .

The Court today fashions a new test to determine whether Congress has conferred a substantive right enforceable against the United States in a suit for money damages. In doing so, the Court radically alters the relevant inquiry from one focused on the actual fiduciary duties created by statute or regulation to one divining fiduciary duties out of the use of the word 'trust' and notions of factual control. . Because I find no basis for this approach in our case law or in the language of the Indian Tucker Act, I respectfully dissent."

Get the Decision:
Syllabus | Opinion [Souter] | Concurrence [Ginsburg] | Dissent [Thomas]

Relevant Documents:
Supreme Court Docket Sheet: No. 01-1067 | Petition: United States | Response: United States | Merits Brief: United States | Reply Brief: United States

Decision Below:
White Mountain Apache Tribe v. US, No 00-5044 (Fed Cir. May 16, 2001)

Related Decisions:
Mitchell I: UNITED STATES v. MITCHELL, 445 U.S. 535 (1980)
Mitchell II: UNITED STATES v. MITCHELL, 463 U.S. 206 (1983)

Relevant Laws:
Lands Held in Trust for the White Mountain Apache Tribe (Pub. L. 86-392, 1960)

Relevant Links:
U.S. Supreme Court - http://www.supremecourtus.gov
White Mountain Apache Tribe - http://www.wmat.nsn.us

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U.S. pressed on trust duties (12/3)
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Review disputes 'costly' Indian trust litigation (10/21)
U.S. argues limits as trustee (8/9)
Griles slammed for ignorance (7/12)
Griles can't explain trust standards (6/27)
Court to decide limits of trust duty (4/23)
Supreme Court taking on trust (4/22)
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