United States v. White Mountain Apache Tribe, 537 U.S. 465, 19 (2003)

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Cite as: 537 U. S. 465 (2003)

Thomas, J., dissenting

But the Court made clear in Mitchell I that the existence of a trust relationship does not itself create a claim for money damages. The General Allotment Act, the statute at issue in Mitchell I, expressly placed responsibility on the United States to hold lands "in trust for the sole use and benefit of the Indian . . . ." 445 U. S., at 541 (quoting 24 Stat. 389, as amended, 25 U. S. C. 348). Despite this language, the Court concluded that the congressional intent necessary to render the United States liable for money damages was lacking. The Court reasoned that the General Allotment Act created only a "bare trust" because Congress did "not unambiguously provide that the United States ha[d] undertaken full fiduciary responsibilities as to the management of allotted lands." 1 445 U. S., at 542.

The statute under review here provides no more evidence of congressional intent to authorize a suit for money damages than the General Allotment Act did in Mitchell I. The Tribe itself acknowledges that the 1960 Act is "silen[t]" not only with respect to money damages, but also with regard to any underlying "maintenance and protection duties" that can fairly be construed as creating a fiduciary relationship. Brief for Respondent 11; see also 249 F. 3d 1364, 1377 (CA Fed. 2001) ("It is undisputed that the 1960 Act does not explicitly define the government's obligations"). Indeed, unlike the statutes and regulations at issue in United States v.

1 The Court of Claims has observed that the relationship between the United States and Indians is not governed by ordinary trust principles: "The general relationship between the United States and the Indian tribes is not comparable to a private trust relationship. When the source of substantive law intended and recognized only the general, or bare, trust relationship, fiduciary obligations applicable to private trustees are not imposed on the United States. Rather, the general relationship between Indian tribes and [the United States] traditionally has been understood to be in the nature of a guardian-ward relationship. A guardianship is not a trust. The duties of a trustee are more intensive than the duties of some other fiduciaries." Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma v. United States, 21 Cl. Ct. 565, 573 (1990) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).


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