On June 18, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court of the United States decided Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians v. Patchak and Salazar v. Patchak, 567 U.S. ___ (2012). According to the Court's ruling, (1) the U.S. Government does not have sovereign immunity from the suit under the Quiet Title Act where a plaintiff does not assert any right or interest in the title of the property; and (2) the landowner has standing to challenge the Secretary of the Interior's acquisition of land in trust.

Holding

The Court ruled that the U.S. waived its sovereign immunity to permit actions against the U.S. for taking land into trust for Indian tribes, and that the plaintiff had standing to bring an action against the U.S. for taking the land into trust.

The Court did not reach any conclusions on the merits of the plaintiff's claims. However, because the Court ruled that the action was permitted, the lower court will now address whether the U.S. was authorized to take land in trust for the Tribe.

Implications

  • A person may challenge a decision to take land into trust for an Indian tribe for up to six years after the land was accepted into trust. Under prior law, a person could challenge the decision to take land into trust prior to the land's acceptance into trust for the Indian tribe.
  • As a result of the decision, a successful challenge could potentially seek to have land taken out of trust for Indian tribes.
  • The decision could impact Indian tribes that were subject to federal jurisdiction at the time the Indian Reorganization Act was passed in 1934. Claims against the U.S. for improperly taking land into trust are not limited to the so-called "Carcieri problem," and there could be other reasons for challenging a decision to take land into trust for an Indian tribe.

Summary of the Case

David Patchak brought an action under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) asserting that the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) did not authorize the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) to acquire property in trust for the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (Tribe) because the Tribe was not federally recognized when the IRA was enacted in 1934. The Court held that: (1) the U.S. waived its sovereign immunity from suit under the APA; and (2) Patchak has standing to challenge the Secretary's acquisition of land in trust for the Tribe. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings on the merits of Patchak's claims.

Analysis of the Supreme Court Decision

The IRA § 465 authorizes the Secretary to acquire property "for the purpose of providing land for Indians." When the Secretary issued her decision to acquire property in trust for the Tribe, Patchak, who is a neighbor to the acquired property, brought a claim that the Secretary lacked the authority to take the property into trust, alleging economic, environmental and aesthetic harms from the casino that the Tribe has proposed to open on the property.

Issue 1: Whether the United States' sovereign immunity bars the suit

The APA generally waives the U.S.'s sovereign immunity from suit, but the waiver does not apply if another statute that grants consent to suit expressly or impliedly forbids the relief sought by the plaintiff. The Tribe and the Secretary argued that the Quiet Title Act (QTA) is such a statute, in particular because the QTA's authorization of suit does not apply to trust or restricted Indian lands. The Court rejected the argument on the grounds that Patchak's claim and sought-after relief is different than that addressed by the QTA. The Court determined that Patchak's action is not a quiet title action because Patchak did not claim any competing interest in the acquired property. Thus, the Court concluded that Patchak's suit fell within the APA's general waiver of sovereign immunity, therefore holding that the U.S. had waived its sovereign immunity against claims for declaratory and injunctive relief.

Issue 2: Whether Patchak has standing to bring the suit

A person suing under the APA must assert interests that are arguably within the zone of interests to be protected or regulated by the statute that the person claims was violated. The Tribe and the Secretary argued that Patchak's economic, environmental and aesthetic injuries are not within the IRA § 465 zone of interests because the statute focuses on land acquisition, while Patchak's alleged injuries relate to the land's use for a casino. The Court rejected this argument based on the conclusion that under the IRA the Secretary "takes title to properties with at least one eye directed toward how tribes will use those lands to support economic development," noting the fact that the Tribe's application and the Department of the Interior's (DOI) notice of intent to take land in trust both included plans to use the land for gaming purposes. Thus, the Court concluded that Patchak's interests were within the IRS § 465 zone of interests, therefore holding that Patchak had standing.