Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians v. Patchak, No. 11-246; U.S. Supreme Court; opinion by Kagan, J.; dissent by Sotomayor, J.; decided June 18, 2012. On certiorari to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) authorizes the secretary of the Department of the Interior to acquire property “for the purpose of providing land to Indians.” 25 U.S.C. § 465. Petitioner Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, an Indian tribe federally recognized in 1999, requested that the secretary take into trust on its behalf a tract of land known as the Bradley property, which the band intended to use “for gaming purposes.” The secretary took title to the Bradley property in 2009.
Respondent David Patchak, who lives near the Bradley property, filed suit under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), asserting that § 465 did not authorize the secretary to acquire the property because the band was not a federally recognized tribe when the IRA was enacted in 1934. Patchak alleged a variety of economic, environmental and aesthetic harms as a result of the band’s proposed use of the property to operate a casino, and requested injunctive and declaratory relief reversing the secretary’s decision to take title to the land. The band intervened to defend the secretary’s decision.
The District Court did not reach the merits of Patchak’s suit, but ruled that he lacked prudential standing to challenge the secretary’s acquisition of the Bradley property.
The D.C. Circuit reversed and also rejected the secretary’s and the band’s alternative argument that sovereign immunity barred the suit.
Held: 1. The United States has waived its sovereign immunity from Patchak’s action. The APA’s general waiver of the federal government’s immunity from suit does not apply “if any other statute that grants consent to suit expressly or impliedly forbids the relief which is sought” by the plaintiff. 5 U.S.C. § 702. The government and band contend that the Quiet Title Act (QTA) is such a statute. The QTA authorizes (and so waives the government’s sovereign immunity from) a suit by a plaintiff asserting a “right, title, or interest” in real property that conflicts with a “right, title, or interest” the United States claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 2409a(d). But it contains an exception for “trust or restricted Indian lands.” See § 2409a(a).
To determine whether the “Indian lands” exception bars Patchak’s suit, the court considers whether the QTA addresses the kind of grievance Patchak advances. It does not, because Patchak’s action is not a quiet title action. The QTA, from its title to its jurisdictional grant to its venue provision, speaks specifically and repeatedly of “quiet title” actions, a term universally understood to refer to suits in which a plaintiff not only challenges someone else’s claim, but also asserts his own right to disputed property. Although Patchak’s suit contests the secretary’s title, it does not claim any competing interest in the Bradley property.
Contrary to the argument of the band and government, the QTA does not more broadly encompass any “civil action … to adjudicate a disputed title to real property in which the United States claims an interest.” See § 2409(a). Rather, § 2409a includes a host of indications that the “civil action” at issue is an ordinary quiet title suit. The band and government also contend that the QTA’s specific authorization of adverse claimants’ suits creates the negative implication that nonclaimants like Patchak cannot challenge government ownership of land under any statute. That argument is faulty for the reason already given: Patchak is bringing a different claim, seeking different relief, from the kind the QTA addresses. Finally, the band and government argue that Patchak’s suit should be treated the same as an adverse claimant’s because both equally implicate the “Indian lands” exception’s policies. That argument must be addressed to Congress. The “Indian lands” exception reflects Congress’ judgment about how far to allow quiet title suits — not all suits challenging the government’s ownership of property. Pp. 4-14.
2. Patchak has prudential standing to challenge the secretary’s acquisition. A person suing under the APA must assert an interest that is “arguably within the zone of interests to be protected or regulated by the statute” that he says was violated. Association of Data Processing Service Organizations, Inc. v. Camp, 397 U.S. 150, 153. The government and band claim that Patchak’s economic, environmental and aesthetic injuries are not within § 465′s zone of interests because the statute focuses on land acquisition, while Patchak’s injuries relate to the land’s use as a casino. However, § 465 has far more to do with land use than the government and band acknowledge. Section 465 is the capstone of the IRA’s land provisions, and functions as a primary mechanism to foster Indian tribes’ economic development. The secretary thus takes title to properties with an eye toward how tribes will use those lands to support such development. The department’s regulations make this statutory concern with land use clear, requiring the secretary to acquire land with its eventual use in mind, after assessing potential conflicts that use might create. And because § 465 encompasses land’s use, neighbors to the use (like Patchak) are reasonable — indeed, predictable — challengers of the secretary’s decisions: Their interests, whether economic, environmental or aesthetic, come within § 465′s regulatory ambit. Pp. 14-18.
632 F.3d 702, affirmed and remanded.