1. Whether the Quiet Title Act preserves sovereign immunity in challenges brought against federal Indian trust lands when the action does not claim personal title to the land.
2. Whether a private claimant who alleges injuries, derived from the operation of a gaming facility on Indian trust lands, has prudential standing to sue under the Indian Reorganization Act.
The Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of the Pottawatomi Indians (“the Band”) requested that the Secretary of the Interior take certain lands in trust under the Indian Reorganization Act in order to allow the tribe to operate a casino under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. David Patchak, a nearby resident, sued to block the land transfer. The district court dismissed his suit for lack of prudential standing to sue. The court of appeals reversed, and further held that under the Administrative Procedures Act the federal government had expressly disclaimed sovereign immunity. On appeal, the Petitioners—both the federal government and the Band—argue that Patchak’s claim is blocked by the government’s sovereign immunity, invoked by the Quiet Title Act, in claims brought to divest the government of Indian trust lands. In addition, Petitioners contend that Patchak’s interests in the suit do not fall within the zone of interests of the operative statute—the Indian Reorganization Act—and thus Patchak lacks prudential standing. Patchak argues that because his claim challenges agency action under the Administrative Procedures Act, it falls outside the Quiet Title Act and the sovereign immunity invocation. Patchak contends that his interest in the land’s use falls within the IRA’s zone of interests and establishes prudential standing. The Supreme Court’s decision in the case will resolve a standing circuit split on whether the Quiet Title Act applies to cases in which the plaintiff’s interest in divesting the title is something other than a claim of ownership to the land.
Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties
1. Whether the Quiet Title Act and its reservation of the sovereign immunity in suits involving "trust or restricted Indian lands" apply to all suits concerning land in which the "claims an interest," 28 U.S.C. § 2409a(a), as the Seventh, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits have held, or whether they apply only when the plaintiff claims title to the land, as the D.C. Circuit held.
Whether 5 U.S.C. 702 waives the sovereign immunity of the United States from a suit challenging its title to lands that it holds in trust for an Indian Tribe.
2. Whether prudential standing to sue under federal law can be based on either (i) the plaintiff’s ability to "police" an agency's compliance with the law, as held by the D.C. Circuit but rejected by the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Circuits, or (ii) interests protected by a different federal statute than the one on which suit is based, as held by the D.C. Circuit but rejected by the Federal Circuit.
Whether a private individual who alleges injuries resulting from the operation of a gaming facility on Indian trust land has prudential standing to challenge the decision of the Secretary of the Interior to take title to that land in trust, on the ground that the decision was not authorized by the Indian Reorganization Act, ch. 576, 48 Stat. 984.
The Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of the Pottawatomi Indians (“the Band”), a federally-recognized tribe, owned 147 acres of land, known as the Bradley Tract, in Wayland Township, Michigan. See Patchak v. Salazar, 632 F.3d. 702, 703 (D.C. Cir. 2011). Seeking to operate a casino under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”), the Band petitioned the Department of the Interior to hold the land in trust for the tribe. See id. at 703–04. On May 13, 2005, the Secretary of the Interior published in the Federal Register that the government would oblige the Band’s request. See id. at 703.
David Patchak, lived near the Bradley Tract, and filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to halt the transfer of land into federal trust. See Patchak, 632 F.3d at 703–04. The Band intervened as a defendant to the suit. See id. at 704. Patchak’s suit claimed that the Secretary has no authority to hold the land in trust for the Band because the Band was not under federal jurisdiction in 1934, a requirement of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (“IRA”). See id. at 703–04. The IRA provides authority for the Secretary of the Interior to acquire lands in trust for Indian tribes, and that such lands are in the name of the United States and exempt from any state or local taxes. See 25 U.S.C. § 465 (2011). On February 24, 2009, the Supreme Court of the United States decided in Carcieri v. Salazar that the definitions in § 479 of the IRA limit this authority to tribes under federal jurisdiction when the IRA became law, 1934. See Carcieri v. Salazar, 555 U.S. 379, 387–88 (2009).
The district court denied Patchak’s motion for an emergency injunction to prevent the Secretary from completing the land transfer pending the suit’s outcome. See Patchak, 632 F.3d at 704. The federal government took the Bradley Tract into trust three weeks prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in Carcieri. See id. Afterwards, the Secretary filed a motion to dismiss Patchak’s suit claiming the Quiet Title Act (“QTA”) barred the action because it seeks to divest the United States of title in Indian trust lands. See id. The district court dismissed maintaining that Patchak lacked prudential standing because Patchak’s interest falls outside IRA’s zone-of-interests. See Patchak v. Salazar, 646 F. Supp. 2d. 72, 76 (D.D.C. 2009).
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed the district court, concluding that Patchak satisfies the zone-of-interests test. See Patchak, 632 F.3d at 704–05. The D.C. Circuit found that the court should not consider the IRA in isolation, but also look to interests affected under the linked IGRA. See id. at 706. The D.C. Circuit additionally held that the QTA did not apply here because the suit was not an action envisioned within the act. See id. at 707–08. The D.C. Circuit reasoned that because Patchak did not seek a court declaration that he owned the land, he was not an adverse claimant under the QTA. See id. at 710–11. The D.C. Circuit recognized that the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits have rejected this reasoning and held that the QTA applies even where the adverse party makes no ownership claim. See id. at 711.
On December 12, 2011, the Supreme Court granted the individual petitions for certiorari from both the Secretary and the Band, consolidating them into one oral argument to discuss both Patchak’s prudential standing and the circuit split on the QTA. See 132 S. Ct. 845 (2011).
Respondent David Patchak, in a bid to challenge the entrustment of the Bradley Property for the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of the Pottawatomi Indians (“the Band”), argues that the Secretary of the Interior violated the Indian Reorganization Act (“IRA”) because the Band is ineligible to receive lands in trust under the IRA. In response, the Band and the government (“Petitioners”) assert two primary arguments: that Patchak’s suit is blocked by sovereign immunity and that, alternatively, Patchak lacks prudential standing to receive judicial review of his claim.
The Quiet Title Act and Waivers of Sovereign Immunity
The government first argues that sovereign immunity has not been waived in this case because, although § 702 of the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”) generally waives immunity in suits contesting agency action, it is rendered null by the Quiet Title Act (“QTA”), which “expressly and impliedly” reinserts immunity for suits challenging Indian trust lands. See Brief for Federal Petitioners at 11–13. The Band concurs, pointing to Supreme Court precedent to support the government’s point and contending that the precise reason why Congress included the “expressly or impliedly” language was to ensure no circumvention around the QTA. See Brief for Petitioner Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of the Pottawatomie Indians at 31–32, 34–36. The QTA is implicated here, the government argues, because it provides the exclusive means for private claimants to challenge title held by the United States; it follows, the government maintains, that the QTA’s Indian trust exception, retaining immunity in challenges to federal Indian trust lands, expressly forbids Patchak’s suit—an outcome in alignment with legislative intent and Supreme Court precedent. See Brief for Federal Petitioners at 15–18. In addition, the government contends that the court of appeals, in holding that the QTA does not apply, erroneously considered what Patchak does not seek—personal title to the Bradley Property—and missed the claim itself—that the United States may not entrust it. See id. at 19–20. The government closes in this regard with the pronouncement that any other reading would allow any claimant to circumvent express statutory language and intent with simple artful pleading. See id. at 13–15. The Band is in agreement, asserting first that, as a “precisely drawn, detailed statute,” the QTA deliberately instates sovereign immunity in quiet-title cases involving Indian trust lands, foreclosing the application of more general waivers of immunity such as § 702. See Brief for Petitioner the Band at 18–21, 23–24. The Band concludes by arguing that the QTA cannot be circumvented here because allowing the QTA’s immunity provision to fall away simply because Patchak does not assert title for himself would upend the QTA’s whole purpose. See id. at 21.
In response, Patchak attacks the Petitioners’ premise that the APA falls away here by asserting that his claim specifically implicates the APA because he is in fact challenging agency action under the IRA. See Brief for Respondent David Patchak at 12–14. In establishing this argument, Patchak first notes that the QTA’s waiver exception for Indian trust lands requires a claimant to bring a quiet title action through which the claimant asserts personal ownership, a conclusion buttressed by the QTA’s jurisdiction and venue provisions as well as the United States’ own past actions in which it employed this very same argument to defeat claims brought under the QTA that did not sound in personal title assertion. See id. at 14–18. Next, Patchak contends that, while the QTA is indeed precisely drawn to preclude claims not brought as traditional quiet-title actions, Patchak’s claim does not even require QTA approval because it challenges unlawful agency action, not United States land title. See id. at 18–21. Patchak asserts that his claim cannot be encapsulated by the QTA’s sovereign immunity exception for several reasons: First, Patchak argues that although his action implicates United States title, the QTA’s waiver exception, understood through legislative history and indeed the government’s own assertions, can only apply to traditional quiet-title actions. See id. at 23. Second, Patchak maintains that § 702 does not invite the QTA to block Patchak’s suit because though the relief sought would divest the government’s title, the cause of action itself—the essence of the claim—cannot be said to draw in the QTA, a result similar to that reached by other courts in similar contexts. See id. at 24, 27–31. Patchak then notes that it must follow that the QTA does not “expressly or impliedly” reach his APA claim. See id. at 24–27. Finally, Patchak asserts that his claim is directed to unlawful actions of a federal agency and not to divestment of government title, and argues that the government, by placing focus on the effects of Patchak’s suit, misses the brunt of his actual claim. See id. at 33–34.
Prudential Standing to Sue
In addition to Article III standing, access to the federal courts is limited by the prudential standing requirement, which looks to whether the plaintiff’s asserted injury falls within the “zone of interests” protected by the statutory provision the plaintiff invokes. See Brief for Federal Petitioners at 29–30. The government begins by arguing that the IRA does not protect Patchak’s asserted interests here because they fall outside the zone of interests protected by the IRA. See id. at 30. The government contends that Patchak’s interests—maintaining property values, avoiding a “gaming” community, and others—do not comport with the IRA’s protections—namely, ensuring the transfer of Indian trust lands to rightful beneficiaries. See id. at 30–31. The Band supports this notion, asserting that Patchak’s interest in combating gaming in his community is but a tiny fraction of the grander scheme of land entrustment furthered by the IRA. See Brief for Petitioner the Band at 41–43, 46–47. Next, the government asserts that the zone-of-interests evaluation should only take into account the particular provision invoked by Patchak, not ancillary portions of the statute. See Brief for Federal Petitioners at 33–34. The government maintains that the courts of appeals erred in reading the IRA in conjunction with other statutes, such as the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”), because Patchak has foreclosed this route by not including it in his original complaint and the IGRA’s mere similarity in subject matter does not suffice to sustain linkage. See id. at 34–35. The Band additionally contends that Patchak cannot pick and choose redress by asserting a claim under the IRA instead of the more appropriate IGRA. See Brief for Petitioner the Band at 53. Finally, the government argues that when the court of appeals below found that Patchak has “standing” because he possessed a “cognizable injury,” such a conclusion only goes to establish Article III standing, not prudential standing. See Brief for Federal Petitioners at 38.
Patchak argues that prudential standing, and the attendant zone-of-interests test, when viewed through the lens of an APA claim, should be applied leniently to serve a “broad remedial purpose.” See Brief for Respondent David Patchak at 36. Patchak asserts that the correct statutory scheme is the APA and that the appropriate inquiry is not whether Patchak is a beneficiary of the IRA—the statute implicated under the APA claim—but whether he has an interest in challenging an agency action. See id. at 36–39. Taking the former point as well-established by Supreme Court precedent, Patchak argues that he is exactly the sort of party that the IRA’s zone of interests covers, especially because state and local governments, who Petitioners concede fall within the zone, cannot be relied on as the sole enforcers of the statute because of their potential self-interest in establishing revenue generating casinos. See id. at 39–40. Next, Patchak contends that, while Petitioners—in establishing the zone of interests—look only to the acquisition of the land, the appropriate perspective accounts for use of the land as well, which, once taken, would materially touch Patchak’s interests. See id. at 41–43. Patchak further argues that his interest in enforcing the IRA against unwarranted agency encroachments is not a “generalized grievance” but is best suited to be resolved in the federal courts. See id. at 47. Finally, Patchak contends that the zone-of-interests test should not view the operative statute—the IRA—in isolation but, rather, should integrate related statutes—such as the IGRA. See id. at 50–53. In support, Patchak points out that this approach is consistent with that in Clarke v. Securities Indus. Ass’n, in which the Supreme Court—in determining whether the plaintiff there satisfied prudential standing—incorporated into its standing analysis of the operative McFadden Act of 1929 the related provisions of the National Banking Act of 1864. See id. at 48–50.
The dispute in this case revolves around whether an individual claiming harm from the proposed building of a casino on Indian tribal land can sue to prevent the Secretary of the Interior from acquiring that land in trust for the tribe. Additionally, the Supreme Court’s decision in this case will resolve a standing circuit split on whether the Quiet Title Act (“QTA”) prevents persons from suing the federal government where the persons claim no ownership interest in the land.
Effect on Economic Development
The National Congress of American Indians (“NCAI”) and the Native American Finance Officer Association (“NAFOA”) argue that any decision allowing third-parties to attack the federal government’s title for lands held in trust for Indian tribes will stifle the economic development of those lands. See Brief of Amici Curiae National Congress of American Indians and Native American Finance Officers Association in Support of Petitioners at 10. NCAI and NAFOA contend that the federal government’s holding of Indian lands in trust provides important legal structures where the lands are not subject to local and state regulations and are instead governed by the tribes themselves. See id. at 11–12. NCAI and NAFOA fear that not applying sovereign immunity to cases attempting to divest title in Indian lands will lead to uncertainty and decrease the useful economic value of these lands for the tribes. See id. at 31–32. Importantly, NCAI and NAFOA assert that divesting the federal government’s title in trust lands will cause direct economic harm and loss of capital in tribal financing projects that rely on federal jurisdiction over the lands, such as Indian casinos. See id. at 34–35. Additionally, NCAI and NAFOA contend that the mere possibility of divestment within any period of time after title has been transferred will inhibit capital investment, lessening tribal economic development. See id. at 36–37. Moreover, Wayland Township argues that these same considerations will impact the regional economic development of municipalities benefiting from the finance projects. See Brief of Amici Curiae Wayland Township et al. in Support of Petitioner at 14–16. In particular, Wayland Township asserts that the local development resulting from the transfer of land into federal trust has created 900 new jobs and employed 750 skilled workers during construction. See id. at 7–8. Additionally, Wayland Township contends even the risk of divestment would prevent the city from funding a wastewater treatment plant that is dependent on the expected casino revenue. See id. at 14–16.
David Patchak responds that evaluation of the QTA should not rely on considerations such as those raised by NCAI and NAFOA. See Brief for Respondent David Patchak at 34. Additionally, Patchak argues that the concerns of NCAI and NAFOA are mitigated by the six-year statute of limitations imposed on suits such as Patchak’s. See id. Because Patchak is suing the Secretary of the Interior based on alleged noncompliance with the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), any suit would be restricted by the APA’s own statute of limitations. See id. Patchak asserts that while these concerns are not appropriate for considering whether the QTA bars suit, the concerns are appropriate as possible equitable defenses that defendants to such a suit may raise to account for any reliance or lost capital based on possible divestment. See id. at 34–35. Further, Patchak contends that the uncertainty that NCAI and NAFOA claims will impact tribal economic development will arise only in cases where there appears to be an issue with the Secretary of the Interior’s decision to take the tribal land in trust. See id. at 35. Patchak argues that these situations are exactly those in which plaintiffs should be allowed to advance claims under the APA to counter the unlawful decisions of the Secretary and avoid empowering the Secretary from blocking review of one decision by using immunity with respect to another decision. See id. Additionally, Patchak contends that the claimed economic development for the local township will disrupt the quiet rural nature of the area, causing harm to the existing residents many of whom have openly voiced their concern. See id. at 3–4. Lastly, Patchak contends that divestment of the federal government’s title to lands in trust for a tribe does not divest the tribe’s ownership interest; instead, the lands will revert back to the tribe to be put to other economic use. See id.
The Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of the Pottawatomi Indians (“the Band”) requested that the Secretary of the Interior take certain lands in trust under the Indian Reorganization Act in order to allow the tribe to operate a casino under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. David Patchak, a nearby resident, sued to block the land transfer. The Petitioners, the federal government and the Band, argue that Patchak’s suit is null because the government retains sovereign immunity under the Quiet Title Act and because Patchak lacks prudential standing where his interests do not fall within those of the operative statute—the Indian Reorganization Act. In response, Patchak argues that the Quiet Title Act does not apply and thus his claim survives, because the Administrative Procedures Act explicitly waives sovereign immunity here. Additionally, Patchak claims prudential standing exists because his interests do in fact fall within the Indian Reorganization Act. The Supreme Court is presented here with the opportunity to resolve a circuit split involving the Quiet Title Act’s application to suits that effectively divest title but not for the purpose of claimant ownership. The Court’s decision may alter the perceived effectiveness of federal jurisdiction as a means to protect lands held in trust for tribes.
Wex: American Indian Law
Wex: Prudential Standing
Britannica: Indian Reorganization Act
Congressional Research Service: Indian Gaming Regulatory Act: Gaming on Newly Acquired Lands