Federal Court Dismisses Hopi Suit for US Trust Breach over Arsenic Levels in Water

Here are the materials in Hopi Tribe v. United States (Fed. Cl.):

1 Complaint

10 US Motion to Dismiss

13 Hopi Response

13-1 Puhuyesva Affidavit

13-2 Marley Affidavit

15 US Reply

18 DCT Order Dismissing Complaint

An excerpt:

Plaintiff, an Indian tribe, brought this suit to recover damages for breach of trust. The alleged breach consists of defendant’s supposed failure to ensure that the water supply on plaintiff’s reservation contains safe levels of arsenic. Before the court is defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, in which defendant asserts that plaintiff has failed to identify an applicable fiduciary duty. The central legal question in this case, therefore, concerns the precise scope of the federal government’s duties as trustee with respect to Indian trusts. See generally United States v. Mitchell (Mitchell I), 445 U.S. 535 (1980). The answer to this inquiry has a long and sometimes acerbic pedigree. But there are some constants.

To be sure, the very notion of a tribal trust relationship is intertwined with the sovereignty of the United States: “Throughout the history of the Indian trust relationship, we have recognized that the organization and management of the trust is a sovereign function subject to the plenary authority of Congress.” United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation, 131 S.Ct. 2313, 2323 (2011) (citing Merrion v. Jicarilla Apache Tribe, 455 U.S. 130, 169, n.18 (1982); United States v. Wheeler, 435 U.S. 313, 319 (1978); Winton v. Amos, 255 U.S. 373, 391 (1921); Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock, 187 U.S. 553, 565–66 (1903); Cherokee Nation v. Hitchcock, 187 U.S. 294, 308 (1902); United States v. Cadelaria, 271 U.S. 432, 439 (1926); and Tiger v. Western Investment Co., 221 U.S. 286, 315 (1911)). As will become clear, in this case, plaintiff has failed to show that Congress has defined the federal government’s trust duties in such a way as to authorize plaintiff’s suit for damages in this court. Accordingly, the court must grant defendant’s motion to dismiss.

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