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United States v. Tohono O'Odham Nation

April 26, 2011

UNITED STATES, PETITIONER
v.
TOHONO O'ODHAM NATION



ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FEDERAL CIRCUIT Court Below: 559 F. 3d 1284

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

OCTOBER TERM, 2010

Argued November 1, 2010

Respondent Tohono O'odham Nation (Nation) filed suit in Federal District Court against federal officials who managed tribal assets held in trust by the Federal Government, alleging violations of fiduciary duty and requesting equitable relief. The next day, the Nation filed this action against the United States in the Court of Federal Claims (CFC), alleging almost identical violations and requesting money damages. The CFC case was dismissed under 28 U. S. C. §1500, which bars CFC jurisdiction over a claim if the plaintiff has another suit "for or in respect to" that claim pending against the United States or its agents in another court. The Federal Circuit reversed, finding that the two suits were not for or in respect to the same claim because, although they shared operative facts, they did not seek overlapping relief.

Held:

1. Two suits are for or in respect to the same claim, precluding CFC jurisdiction, if they are based on substantially the same operative facts, regardless of the relief sought in each suit. Pp. 2--9.

(a) Since 1868, Congress has restricted the jurisdiction of the CFC and its predecessors when related actions are pending elsewhere. Keene Corp. v. United States, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kennedy

563 U. S. ____ (2011)

Opinion of the Court

The Tohono O'odham Nation is an Indian Tribe with federal recognition. The Nation's main reservation is in the Sonoran desert of southern Arizona. Counting this and other reservation lands, the Nation's landholdings are approximately 3 million acres.

The Nation brought two actions based on the same alleged violations of fiduciary duty with respect to the Nation's lands and other assets. One action was filed against federal officials in district court and the other against the United States in the Court of Federal Claims (CFC). The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that the CFC suit was not barred by the rule that the CFC lacks jurisdiction over an action "for or in respect to" a claim that is also the subject of an action pending in another court. 28 U. S. C. §1500. The question presented is whether a common factual basis like the one apparent in the Nation's suits suffices to bar jurisdiction under §1500.

I.

The case turns on the relationship between the two suits the Nation filed. The first suit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against federal officials responsible for managing tribal assets held in trust by the Federal Government. The complaint alleged various violations of fiduciary duty with respect to those assets. The Nation claimed, for example, that the officials failed to provide an accurate accounting of trust property; to refrain from self-dealing; or to use reasonable skill in investing trust assets. The complaint requested equitable relief, including an accounting.

The next day the Nation filed the instant action against the United States in the CFC. The CFC complaint described the same trust assets and the same fiduciary duties that were the subject of the District Court complaint. And it alleged almost identical violations of fiduciary duty, for which it requested money damages. The CFC case was dismissed under §1500 for want of jurisdiction.

A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed. 559 F. 3d 1284 (2009). Two suits are for or in respect to the same claim, it reasoned, only if they share operative facts and also seek overlapping relief. Finding no overlap in the relief requested, the court held that the two suits at issue were not for or in respect to the same claim.

This Court granted certiorari. 559 U. S. ___ (2010).

II.

Since 1868, Congress has restricted the jurisdiction of the CFC and its predecessors when related actions are pending elsewhere. Section 1500, identical in most respects to the original statute, provides:

"The United States Court of Federal Claims shall not have jurisdiction of any claim for or in respect to which the plaintiff or his assignee has pending in any other court any suit or process against the United States or any person who, at the time when the cause of action alleged in such suit or process arose, was, in respect thereto, acting or professing to act, directly or indirectly under the authority of the United States."

The rule is more straightforward than its complex wording suggests. The CFC has no jurisdiction over a claim if the plaintiff has another suit for or in respect to that claim pending against the United States or its agents.

The question to be resolved is what it means for two suits to be "for or in respect to" the same claim. Keene Corp. v. United States, 508 U. S. 200 (1993), provided a partial answer. It held that two suits are for or in respect to the same claim when they are "based on substantially the same operative facts . . . , at least if there [is] some overlap in the relief requested." Id., at 212. The Keene case did not decide whether the jurisdictional bar also operates if the suits are based on the same operative facts but do not seek overlapping relief. Still, Keene narrows the permissible constructions of "for or in respect to" a claim to one of two interpretations. Either it requires substantial factual and some remedial overlap, or it requires substantial factual overlap without more.

Congress first enacted the jurisdictional bar now codified in §1500 to curb duplicate lawsuits brought by resi-dents of the Confederacy following the Civil War. The so-called "cotton claimants"-named for their suits to recover for cotton taken by the Federal Government-sued the United States in the Court of Claims under the Abandoned Property Collection Act, 12 Stat. 820, while at the same time suing federal officials in other courts, seeking relief under tort law for the same alleged actions. See Keene, supra, at 206--207; Schwartz, Section 1500 of the Judicial Code and Duplicate Suits Against the Government and Its Agents, 55 Geo. L. J. 573, 574--580 (1967). Although the rule embodied in §1500 originated long ago, Congress reenacted the statute at various times, most recently in 1948. See Act of June 25, 1948, 62 Stat. 942; Keene, 508 U. S., at 206--207.

The text of ยง1500 reflects a robust response to the problem first presented by the cotton claimants. It bars jurisdiction in the CFC not only if the plaintiff sues on an identical claim elsewhere-a suit "for" the same claim- but also if the plaintiff's other action is related although not identical-a suit "in respect to" the same claim. The phrase "in respect to" does not resolve all doubt as to the scope of the jurisdictional bar, but "it does make it clear that Congress did not intend the statute to be rendered useless by a narrow concept of identity." Id., at 213. It suggests a broad prohibition, regardless of whether ...


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