SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
OCTOBER TERM, 1992
certiorari to the supreme court of idaho
No. 92-190. Argued March 29, 1993—Decided May 3, 1993
The McCarran Amendment allows a State to join the United States as a defendant in a comprehensive water right adjudication. It also provides, however, that "no judgment for costs shall be entered against the United States in any such suit." Idaho legislation enacted in 1985 and 1986 provided for a state-court adjudication "within the terms of the McCarran [A]mendment" of all water rights in the Snake River Basin. The legislation also altered the State's methods for financing such adjudications by requiring all water right claimants to pay a filing fee. Idaho uses these funds to pay the administrative and judicial expenses attributable to water right adjudications. After filing a petition under the 1985 and 1986 legislation naming the United States and all other Snake River water users as defendants, the State refused to accept the Federal Government's notices of claims because they were not submitted with the required filing fees. The United States estimates that in its case the fees could exceed $10 million. The United States then filed a petition for a writ of mandamus to compel the State to accept its notices without fees, asserting that the McCarran Amendment does not waive federal sovereign immunity from payment of such fees. The State District Court granted Idaho summary judgment on this issue, and the State Supreme Court affirmed.
Held: The McCarran Amendment does not waive the United States' sovereign immunity from fees of the kind sought by Idaho. While "fees" and "costs" generally mean two different things in the context of lawsuits, the line is blurred, indeed, in the context of this proceeding.
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