Inyo County v. Paiute-Shoshone Indians of Bishop Community of Bishop Colony, 538 U.S. 701, 9 (2003)

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Cite as: 538 U. S. 701 (2003)

Opinion of the Court

ing 1983," the Court said, "Congress did not intend to override well-established immunities or defenses under the common law," including "[t]he doctrine of sovereign immunity." Id., at 67. Although this case does not squarely present the question, the parties agree, and we will assume for purposes of this opinion, that Native American tribes, like States of the Union, are not subject to suit under 1983. See Brief for Petitioners 35-38; Tr. of Oral Arg. 49; Kiowa Tribe of Okla. v. Manufacturing Technologies, Inc., 523 U. S. 751, 754 (1998) ("an Indian tribe is subject to suit only where Congress has authorized the suit or the tribe has waived its immunity").

The issue pivotal here is whether a tribe qualifies as a claimant—a "person within the jurisdiction" of the United States—under 1983.5 The United States maintains it does not, invoking the Court's "longstanding interpretive presumption that 'person' does not include the sovereign," a presumption that "may be disregarded only upon some affirmative showing of statutory intent to the contrary." Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 7-8 (quoting Vermont Agency of Natural Resources v. United States ex rel. Stevens, 529 U. S. 765, 780-781 (2000)); see Will, 491 U. S., at 64. Nothing in the text, purpose, or history of 1983, the Government contends, overcomes the interpretive presumption

5 Courts of Appeals have expressed divergent views on this question. See Native Village of Venetie IRA Council v. Alaska, 155 F. 3d 1150, 1152, n. 1 (CA9 1998) (concluding that Tribes are persons entitled to sue under 1983); American Vantage Co. v. Table Mountain Rancheria, 292 F. 3d 1091, 1097, n. 4 (CA9 2002) ("[I]t is doubtful whether [a] Tribe qua sovereign would qualify as a 'citizen of the United States or other person' eligible to bring an action under 1983." (quoting White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Williams, 810 F. 2d 844, 865, n. 16 (CA9 1987) (Fletcher, J., dissenting))); cf. Illinois v. Chicago, 137 F. 3d 474, 477 (CA7 1998) (stating in dictum that "a state is not a 'person' under [ 1983]"); Pennsylvania v. Porter, 659 F. 2d 306, 314-318 (CA3 1981) (en banc) (holding that a State may bring a 1983 action in a parens patriae capacity).


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