[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday ruled 8-1 [decision, PDF] that the federal government is not immune from a lawsuit by a citizen to prevent a particular use of “Indian Lands” retained in trust by the government. In Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians v. Patchak [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] the government approved the granting of land for a casino to a Native American population in Michigan. David Patchak, a citizen who lives in close proximity to the granted land, filed suit to stop the building of the casino, arguing it would be detrimental to the surrounding land, including his own. The government responded that they were immune from suit, arguing that although they consented to suit generally under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) [text], they were entitled to sovereign immunity [Cornell LII backgrounder] under the Quiet Title Act (QTA) [text], which allows citizens to sue the government for the title to a piece of land, except when the land is retained for “Indian Lands.” The court held that the QTA does not bar suit because Patchak’s suit is to bar a certain use of the land, not to dispute the government’s title to the land:
In the QTA, Congress made a judgment about how far to allow quiet title suits—to a point, but no further. … Perhaps Congress would—perhaps Congress should—make the identical judgment for the full range of lawsuits pertaining to the Government’s ownership of land. But that is not our call. … As the matter stands, Congress has not assimilated to quiet title actions all other suits challenging the Government’s ownership of property. And so when a plaintiff like Patchak brings a suit like this one, it falls within the APA’s general waiver of sovereign immunity.
The court also rejected the government’s argument that MichGO did not have standing to sue under the APA because his claim was not sufficiently related to the law at issue. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the ruling, finding that the QTA maintains sovereign immunity for “particular categories of land,” including lands retained for Native Americans.
The court upheld the decision [text] of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, holding that the QTA sovereign immunity exceptions do not apply to cases other than those disputing land titles. The court’s decision allows the suit to proceed, and the case was remanded to the lower court to be litigated on the merits.