NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337.




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

No. 94-1474. Argued October 16, 1996 -- Decided June 23, 1997

Alleging ownership in the submerged lands and bed of Lake Coeur d'Alene and various of its navigable tributaries and effluents lying within the original boundaries of the Coeur d'Alene Reservation (the submerged lands), the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and various of its members (collectively, the Tribe) filed this federal court action against the State of Idaho, various state agencies, and numerous state officials in their individual capacities. The Tribe sought, inter alia, a declaratory judgment establishing its entitlement to the exclusive use and occupancy and the right to quiet enjoyment of the submerged lands, a declaration of the invalidity of all Idaho laws, customs, or usages purporting to regulate those lands, and a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting defendants from taking any action in violation of the Tribe's rights in the lands. The District Court dismissed the suit, but the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. As here relevant, the latter court agreed with the District Court that the Eleventh Amendment barred all claims against the State and its agencies, as well as the quiet title action against the officials. However, it found the doctrine of Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, applicable and allowed the claims for declaratory and injunctive relief against the officials to proceed insofar as they sought to preclude continuing violations of federal law. The court reasoned that those claims are based on Idaho's ongoing interference with the Tribe's alleged ownership rights, and found it conceivable that the Tribe could prove facts entitling it to relief on the claims.

Held: The judgment is reversed in part, and the case is remanded.

42 F. 3d 1244, reversed in part and remanded.

Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II-A, and III, concluding that the Tribe's suit against the state officials may not proceed in federal court. Pp. 4-8, 18-26.

(a) Because States enjoy Eleventh Amendment immunity in suits by Indian tribes, Blatchford v. Native Village of Noatak, 501 U.S. 775, 782, the present suit is barred unless it falls within the exception this Court has recognized for certain suits seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against state officers in their individual capacities, see, e.g., Ex parte Young, supra. The Court does not question the continuing validity of the Young doctrine, but acknowledges that questions will arise as to its proper scope and application. In resolving these questions, the Court must ensure that the sovereign immunity doctrine remains meaningful, while also giving recognition to the need to prevent violations of federal law. In a suit commenced against such officials, even if they are named and served as individuals, the State itself will have a continuing interest in the litigation whenever state policies or procedures are at stake. See, e.g., Pennhurst State School and Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 114, n. 25. Pp. 4-8.

(b) The Tribe may not avoid the Eleventh Amendment bar and avail itself of the Young exception in this action. In support of Young's applicability, the Tribe alleges an on going violation of its property rights under federal law, seeks prospective injunctive relief, and attempts to rely on the plurality decision in Florida Dept. of State v. Treasure Salvors, Inc., 458 U.S. 670. The latter case is not helpful because the state officials there were acting beyond their state conferred authority, id., at 696-697, a theory the Tribe does not even attempt to pursue in this case. Moreover, although a request for prospective relief from an allegedly on going federal law violation is ordinarily sufficient to invoke the Young fiction, this case is unusual in that the Tribe's suit is the functional equivalent of a quiet title implicating special sovereignty interests. This is especially troubling when coupled with the far reaching and invasive relief the Tribe seeks, which would shift substantially all benefits of ownership and control of vast areas from the State to the Tribe, and thereby entail consequences going well beyond those typically present in a real property quiet title action. Furthermore, the requested relief would divest the State of its control over lands underlying navigable waters, which have historically been considered uniquely "sovereign lands," see, e.g., Utah Div. of State Lands v. United States, 482 U.S. 193, 195-198, title to which is conferred on the States by the Constitution itself, see Oregon ex rel. State Land Bd. v. Corvallis Sand & Gravel Co., 429 U.S. 363, 374. Indeed, Idaho law views its interest in the submerged lands in such terms. Under these particular and special circumstances, the Young exception is inapplicable. The dignity and status of its statehood allows Idaho to rely on its Eleventh Amendment immunity and to insist upon responding to these claims in its own courts, which are open to hear and determine the case. Pp. 18-26.

Kennedy, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II-A, and III, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and O'Connor, Scalia, and Thomas, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts II-B, II-C, and II-D, in which Rehnquist, C. J., joined. O'Connor, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Scalia and Thomas, JJ., joined. Souter, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Stevens, Ginsburg and Breyer, JJ., joined.