Opinion: Supreme Court decision in Tohono O'odham case

"Yesterday, the Supreme Court issued its decision in United States v. Tohono O’odham Nation, No. 09-846. The Court, by a vote of 5-2-1 (Justice Kagan recused) reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and held that the Court of Federal Claims lacked jurisdiction over the Tohono O’odham Nation’s claims for monetary relief on its trust mismanagement claims. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court, which was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito. Justice Sotomayor issued an opinion concurring in the judgment that was joined by Justice Breyer. Justice Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion. Justice Kagan took no part in the decision as she was the Solicitor General during earlier proceedings in the case.

The case arose when the Tohono O’odham Nation filed back-to-back lawsuits seeking relief for numerous violations of trust and fiduciary obligations with respect to assets held in trust by the federal government. The Nation first filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against the United States, seeking primarily equitable relief, including an accounting. That complaint also sought equitable monetary relief in the form of disgorgement and restitution. The next day, the Nation filed a second lawsuit in the Court of Federal Claims (CFC) seeking monetary damages for mismanagement of the same trust assets.

The consequences of the Court’s decision are significant for Indian Country. Tribes who have simultaneous litigation pending in both federal district court and the CFC may now find that subject matter jurisdiction is lacking over their CFC judgments. The decision is equally important for the numerous other litigants seeking both monetary and equitable relief against the United States’ violations of law. For example, if the government is engaged in an ongoing regulatory taking of property, individuals must now choose between exercising their constitutional right to obtain just compensation for that taking in the CFC and their right to prevent further constitutional injury through an injunction in federal district court. The property owner cannot obtain both forms of relief simultaneously."

Get the Story:
Patricia Millett and James Meggesto Commentary on the Tohono O’odham Decision (Turtle Talk 4/27)

Supreme Court Decision:
Syllabus | Opinion [Kennedy] | Concurrence [Sotomayor] | Dissent [Ginsburg]

Oral Argument Transcript:
US v. Tohono O'odham Nation (November 1, 2010)

Federal Circuit Decision:
Tohono O'odham Nation v US (March 16, 2009)

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Turtle Talk Poll: Why no decision in Tohono O'odham case? (4/20)
Supreme Court yet to issue ruling in Tohono O'odham case (4/19)
Recap: Supreme Court arguments in US v. Tohono O'odham Nation (11/2)
Supreme Court to hear Tohono O'odham Nation trust case today (11/1)
Turtle Talk: Supreme Court singling out tribes for damage cases (10/14)
Supreme Court sets November 1 hearing for first Indian law case (09/29)
Supreme Court accepts Tohono O'odham trust law case (4/19)
Tribes working to keep cases away from Supreme Court (3/31)
Federal Circuit ruling in Tohono O'odham trust case (3/16)

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