Law | Trust

Supreme Court blocks San Carlos Apache Tribe from appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court won't let the San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona appeal a decision in a trust law case.

The tribe asked for permission to file a petition even though the deadline to appeal already passed. For that reason, the justices denied the request in an order list today.

The tribe wanted to challenge a decision from the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. In a split decision, the court said the tribe waited too long to sue the U.S. for breach of trust related to a water rights decree that was issued in 1935.

"The central question in this case is when the tribe’s claim for breach of fiduciary duty accrued, " Judge Alan Lourie wrote for the majority. "We conclude that the tribe’s claim accrued in 1935 upon entry of the decree."

Judge Pauline Newman filed a dissent. She said the tribe's claim should have accrued in 2006, when the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the tribe lost all of its rights under the 1935 decree.

"For decades the United States stood together with the San Carlos Apache Tribe, in federal and state court, pressing the position that the 1935 Globe Equity Decree did not finally determine the tribe’s water rights in the Gila River," Newman observed.

But when the tribe lost in state court, Newman said the government took the opposite position. "Thus this court provides 'yet another instance of the manifest injustice which has assailed the tribe at virtually every turn since their dealings with the United States and its citizens began," she wrote, quoting from a decision in the water rights dispute.

Federal Circuit Decision:
San Carlos Apache Tribe v. US (April 25, 2011)

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