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No. 08-881

 

In the Supreme Court of the United States

MARTIN MARCEAU, ET AL., PETITIONERS

v.

BLACKFEET HOUSING AUTHORITY, ET AL.

ON PETITION FOR A WRIT OF CERTIORARI
TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

BRIEF FOR THE FEDERAL RESPONDENTS
IN OPPOSITION

ELENA KAGAN
Solicitor General
Counsel of Record
MICHAEL F. HERTZ
Acting Assistant Attorney
General
BARBARA C. BIDDLE
JOHN S. KOPPEL
Attorneys
Department of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001
(202) 514-2217

QUESTION PRESENTED

Whether a federal agency's pervasive control over Indian housing construction creates common-law trust duties that the agency owes to individual Indians.

 

In the Supreme Court of the United States

 

No. 08-881

MARTIN MARCEAU, ET AL., PETITIONERS

v.

BLACKFEET HOUSING AUTHORITY, ET AL.

ON PETITION FOR A WRIT OF CERTIORARI
TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

BRIEF FOR THE FEDERAL RESPONDENTS
IN OPPOSITION

 

OPINIONS BELOW

The opinions of the court of appeals (Pet. App. 1-45, 46-91, 92-121) are reported at 540 F.3d 916, 519 F.3d 838, and 455 F.3d 974. The order of the district court (Pet. App. 122-136) is unreported.

JURISDICTION

The judgment of the court of appeals was entered on March 19, 2008. Petitions for rehearing were denied on August 22, 2008, and an amended opinion was issued on that date (Pet. App. 5). The petition for a writ of certio rari was filed on November 19, 2008. The jurisdiction of this Court is invoked under 28 U.S.C. 1254(1).

STATEMENT

1. In the late 1970s, the Department of Housing and Urban Development provided funding under the United States Housing Act of 1937, 42 U.S.C. 1437 et seq., to the Blackfeet Housing Authority (Authority), which utilized the funding to construct houses on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation between 1977 to 1980. The Authority built those houses, including houses now owned by petition ers, with wood foundations constructed with pressure- treated lumber. Petitioners are American Indian home owners who allege that their houses are defective and hazardous because they were built with foundations con taining toxic chemicals. Petitioners brought this action in 2002 seeking money damages and declaratory and injunctive relief against the Department of Housing and Urban Development and its Secretary (collectively, HUD) and the Authority and its board members (collec tively, Authority). Pet. App. 7-8.

As is relevant here, petitioners asserted a claim un der the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 701 et seq., seeking a declaratory judgment that HUD improperly authorized substandard housing, in violation of its own regulations, and injunctive relief mandating either the repair or the replacement of their houses. Pet. App. 23, 156-158. Petitioners also sought money damages for HUD's purported breach of Indian trust duties allegedly owed to petitioners by the government. Id. at 152-156.

The district court granted HUD's and the Author ity's motions to dismiss. Pet. App. 122-136. Among other things, the court dismissed petitioners' APA claim because petitioners failed to show that HUD's actions were contrary to law, id. 132-133, and dismissed petition ers' Indian trust claim because none of the statutes or regulations that petitioners invoked imposed relevant duties on HUD that might give rise to a cause of action under what the court styled the "Mitchell Doctrine," id. at 124-132; id. at 126 (illustrating asserted doctrine with citations to United States v. Navajo Nation, 537 U.S. 488 (2003) (Navajo I), United States v. White Mountain Apache Tribe, 537 U.S. 465 (2003) (White Mountain), and United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206 (1983) (Mit chell II)).

2. a. The court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of petitioners' claims against HUD but reinstated peti tioner's claims against the Authority. Pet. App. 92-121. As is relevant here, the court concluded that petitioners' APA claim was barred by 5 U.S.C. 702 because it sought relief that was tantamount to money damages, Pet. App. 113-115, and that petitioners failed to show that "a grant of HUD funds" to the Authority gave rise to enforceable trust duties that might support their Indian trust claim, id. at 110-113.

b. The panel subsequently granted the Authority's rehearing petition and issued an opinion revisiting all of the issues raised on appeal. That opinion on rehearing (Pet. App. 46-91) adhered to the panel's prior holdings with one exception, reversing course on petitioners' APA claim and remanding that claim for further proceedings. Id. at 68-71. Judge Pregerson, who had authored the panel's original decision, dissented from the court's re newed holding that petitioners failed to state an Indian trust claim against HUD. Id. at 71-91.

c. Both HUD and the Authority petitioned for re hearing, which the court of appeals denied. Pet. App. 5. However, in denying rehearing, the court replaced its original opinion on rehearing "in its entirety" (ibid.) with an amended opinion. Id. at 6-45. That opinion modified the panel's rationale for reinstating petitioners' APA claim, id. at 22-25, and again upheld the dismissal of petitioners' Indian trust claim, id. at 10-22. The court concluded that the governing "statutes and regulations pertaining to the Blackfeet houses at issue" showed that HUD did not have an obligation to construct, maintain, or repair the houses at issue and that, therefore, it did not breach a trust duty that could give rise to an Indian trust claim. Id. at 15, 22. The court noted that, "[a]s with any grant of federal funds," the Authority had to satisfy "certain requirements * * * to obtain and spend [HUD] funds." Id. at 22. But, it explained, the "federal government held no property-land, houses, money, or anything else-in trust," it "did not exercise direct control over Indian land, houses, or money by means of these funding mechanisms," and it "did not build, manage, or maintain any of the housing." Ibid.

Judge Pregerson again dissented regarding the In dian trust claim, Pet. App. 25-45, concluding that HUD funding gave HUD "pervasive control over [the Author ity's] housing program." Id. at 44. He reasoned that "[t]he federal government undertook, as part of its trea ty and general trust relationship, to assist the Blackfeet tribe to acquire decent, safe, and sanitary housing for low-income families," and that "[t]he tribe had little choice but to accept the government housing program." Ibid. In his view, "the government undertook to fulfill its trust responsibility to provide housing for the tribe and did so through a pervasive regulatory structure" and, for that reason, "the federal government * * * had an obligation to perform [the task] in a manner con sistent with its fiduciary duty to the tribe." Id. at 44-45. Based on the allegations in petitioners' complaint, he concluded that HUD failed to do so. Ibid.

ARGUMENT

Petitioners contend (Pet. 8-43) that what they assert was the federal government's pervasive control over the construction of their homes by the Blackfeet Housing Authority imposed common-law trust duties on the gov ernment that HUD breached in this case. The court of appeals correctly affirmed the dismissal of that claim, and its decision does not conflict with any decision of this Court or any other court of appeals. Further review is unwarranted.

1. Petitioners' trust claim is premised on this Court's jurisprudence under the Indian Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1505, and rests primarily on Mitchell II, White Mountain, and the Federal Circuit's (now reversed) opinion in Navajo Nation v. United States, 501 F.3d 1327 (2007). See Pet. i, 9-10. Petitioners argue (at 12, 14) that, while "the statutes in the instant case only es tablish a mechanism for lending [federal] money to tribal housing authorities," the federal government ex ercised de facto "pervasive control and supervision" over the Authority's construction of their homes and that HUD's "'pervasive' role * * * defines the contours of the United States' [non-statutory, non-regulatory] fidu ciary responsibilities" to petitioners. According to peti tioners, "federal control or supervision is the key," and an agency's exercise of de facto control gives rise to trust duties even where the pertinent statutory or regu latory provisions do not. Pet. 15, 21. Petitioners thus contend that the court of appeals' rejection of their trust-based contentions conflicts with Mitchell II, White Mountain, and the Federal Circuit's decision in Navajo Nation (Pet. 8-21); and is contrary to petitioners' allega tions and the government's purported history of exercis ing plenary control over Indian housing matters, Pet. 22-43. Those contentions are without merit and are now foreclosed by this Court's recent decision in United States v. Navajo Nation, No. 07-1410 (Apr. 6, 2009) (Na vajo II).

a. As an initial matter, petitioners' trust claim suf fers from a fatal jurisdictional defect. The doctrinal foundation for that claim rests on the limited waiver of sovereign immunity in the Indian Tucker Act, which authorizes Indian Tribes to sue the United States for money damages based on certain claims founded upon violations of federal statutes or regulations. See Navajo II, slip op. 2-3, 13-14 (discussing Mitchell II and White Mountain); see also White Mountain, 537 U.S. at 472- 473; Mitchell II, 463 U.S. at 211-212, 214-218. Petition ers, who are individual Indians and not Tribes, presum ably assert their claim under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1), which provides a similar waiver for claims of non-tribal plaintiffs. See Navajo II, slip op. 2; Uni ted States v. Mitchell, 445 U.S. 535, 540 (1980) (Mitchell I) (acts provide "same access" to relief). But both the Tucker and Indian Tucker Acts vest the Court of Fed eral Claims-not federal district courts-with jurisdic tion, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1), 1505, and, as the court of ap peals recognized, the trust claim pressed by petitioners would be enforceable only through those jurisdictional acts. Pet. App. 11 n.3; cf. id. at 115 n.6 ("federal ques tion jurisdiction cannot serve as an alternative basis for jurisdiction" in district court).1 Thus, even if the court of appeals were incorrect in holding that petitioners failed to identify a duty actionable under the Tucker Acts, id. at 10-22, petitioners' claim would fail for want of statutory jurisdiction.

b. On the merits, petitioners' underlying contention that "pervasive control and supervision" gives rise to enforceable trust duties was squarely rejected by this Court in Navajo II. Navajo II explains that a plaintiff asserting an Indian trust claim must cross two distinct hurdles. Navajo II, slip op. 2-3. First, the plaintiff "must identify a substantive source of law that estab lishes specific fiduciary or other duties, and allege that the Government has failed faithfully to perform those duties." Ibid. (quoting Navajo I, 537 U.S. at 506). The plaintiff must therefore make a threshold showing that the government violated "specific rights-creating or duty-imposing statutory or regulatory prescriptions" in order to state a cognizable trust claim, and "neither the Government's 'control' * * * nor common-law trust principles matter" when identifying those duties. Id. at 13-14 (quoting Navajo I, 537 U.S. at 506); see id. at 3 (citing White Mountain, 537 U.S. at 477).

After a plaintiff establishes that the government has violated a duty imposed by a specific statutory or regu latory provision, the plaintiff must further show that that substantive provision mandates a damages remedy for the breach. Navajo II, slip op. 3, 14 (citing Navajo I, 537 U.S. at 506). At that second stage of the analysis, "trust principles (including any such principles premised on 'control')" can "play a role in 'inferring that [a statu tory or regulatory] trust obligation [is] enforceable by damages.'" Id. at 14 (quoting White Mountain, 537 U.S. at 477) (second brackets in original). But such common-law trust principles based on "control" will be come relevant only after the government's duties have been defined by specific statutory or regulatory provi sions. Ibid.

For that reason, Navajo II squarely rejected the Federal Circuit's conclusion in Navajo Nation that "the Government's 'comprehensive control' over [resources] on Indian land gives rise to fiduciary duties based on common-law trust principles." Navajo II, slip op. 13. That holding forecloses petitioners' arguments here. Indeed, Navajo II demonstrates that neither Mitchell II nor White Mountain supports the view that de facto comprehensive control by the government will give rise to trust duties untethered to specific obligations speci fied in statute or regulation. See id. at 6 (statute and regulations created the relevant duty in Mitchell II); id. at 3, 14 (White Mountain invoked "principles of trust law" to determine whether a statutory provision was money mandating); see also White Mountain, 537 U.S. at 480 (Ginsburg, J., concurring) ("dispositive question" in White Mountain was whether statute was money mandating; it was not the "threshold question" whether the statute "impose[d] any concrete substantive obliga tions"). Navajo II also reverses the sole Federal Circuit decision (Navajo Nation, 501 F.3d 1327) upon which petitioners base their claim of a circuit conflict. See Pet. 10-12; Navajo II, slip op. 7, 14. And Navajo II makes clear that petitioners' allegations regarding a history of government control over Indian housing are irrelevant when identifying the government duties whose alleged breach forms the basis for an Indian trust claim. Id. at 14 ("neither the Government's control over [tribal re sources] nor common-law trust principles matter").

2. Even if petitioners' contentions were otherwise meritorious, certiorari review in the interlocutory pos ture of this case would be unwarranted. While the court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of petitioners' trust claim, it reversed the dismissal of their APA claim, which seeks "an injunction ordering HUD to repair (or, where necessary, rebuild) their homes," and remanded that claim "for further factual development." Pet. App. 23; see id. at 22-25. That alternative claim for relief thus has not been resolved. The absence of a final judgment is "a fact that of itself alone furnishe[s] sufficient ground for the denial of [certiorari]." Hamilton-Brown Shoe Co. v. Wolf Bros. & Co., 240 U.S. 251, 258 (1916); accord Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen v. Bangor & Aroos took R.R., 389 U.S. 327, 328 (1967) (per curiam); see VMI v. United States, 508 U.S. 946 (1993) (opinion of Scalia, J., respecting the denial of certiorari) (stating that the Court "generally await[s] final judgment in the lower courts before exercising [its] certiorari jurisdic tion").

CONCLUSION

The petition for a writ of certiorari should be denied.

Respectfully submitted.

ELENA KAGAN
Solicitor General
MICHAEL F. HERTZ
Acting Assistant Attorney
General
BARBARA C. BIDDLE
JOHN S. KOPPEL
Attorneys

APRIL 2009

1 Petitioners cannot rely upon the Little Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1346(a)(2), as a basis for district court jurisdiction because they seek more than $10,000 in damages. See Pet. App. 115.