United States v. White Mountain Apache Tribe, 537 U.S. 465 (2003)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the federal circuit

No. 01-1067. Argued December 2, 2002—Decided March 4, 2003

Under Pub. L. 86-392, 74 Stat. 8 (1960 Act), the "former Fort Apache

Military Reservation" is "held by the United States in trust for the White Mountain Apache Tribe, subject to the right of the Secretary of the Interior to use any part of the land and improvements." The Secretary has exercised that right with respect to about 30 of the post's buildings and appurtenances. The Tribe sued the United States for the amount necessary to rehabilitate the property occupied by the Government in accordance with standards for historic preservation, alleging that the United States had breached a fiduciary duty to maintain, protect, repair, and preserve the trust property. In its motion to dismiss, the Government acknowledged that, under the Indian Tucker Act, it was subject to the jurisdiction of the Court of Federal Claims with respect to certain Indian tribal claims, but stressed that the waiver operated only when underlying substantive law could fairly be interpreted as giving rise to a particular duty, breach of which should be compensable in money damages. The Government contended that jurisdiction was lacking here because no statute or regulation could fairly be read to impose a legal obligation on it to maintain or restore the trust property, let alone authorize compensation for breach. The Court of Federal Claims agreed and dismissed the complaint, relying primarily on United States v. Mitchell, 445 U. S. 535 (Mitchell I), and United States v. Mitchell, 463 U. S. 206 (Mitchell II). The court ruled that, like the Indian General Allotment Act at issue in Mitchell I, the 1960 Act created nothing more than a "bare trust," with no predicate for finding a fiduciary obligation enforceable by monetary relief. The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded, on the understanding that the Government's property use under the 1960 Act triggered a common-law trustee's duty to act reasonably to preserve any property the Secretary chose to utilize, an obligation fairly interpreted as supporting a money damages claim. The court held that the 1960 Act's provision for the Govern-ment's exclusive control over the buildings actually occupied raised the trust to the level of Mitchell II, supra, at 225, in which this Court held that federal timber management statutes and regulations, under which


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