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Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma v. United States

September 27, 2007

CHEYENNE-ARAPAHO TRIBES OF OKLAHOMA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

OPINION

This matter is before the Court on defendants' motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment and the motion of plaintiff Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma ("Cheyenne-Arapaho") for a continuance to permit discovery under Rule 56(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn1

The facts giving rise to the instant litigation began more than 130 years ago, when President Ulysses S. Grant established the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma Indian Reservation in Oklahoma. See Compl. ¶ 12; Mot. Ex. B (Exec. Order (Aug. 10, 1869), reprinted in 1 Kappler 841 (1904)) ("1869 Exec. Order"). In 1883, President Chester A. Arthur carved out the Fort Reno Military Reserve from a 9,493 acre plot of the reservation established in 1869. See Compl. ¶ 13; Mot. Ex. D (Exec. Order (July 17, 1883), reprinted in 1 Kappler 842-43 (1904)) ("1883 Exec. Order"). At the time, the Executive Order implied that the Cheyenne-Arapaho had a reversionary interest in the land once it ceased being used for anything other than military purposes. See id. Eight years later, the Cheyenne-Arapaho signed a treaty relinquishing their interest in the reservation established in 1869, subject to individual allotments of land in severalty. See Compl. ¶ 14; Mot. Ex. E (Agreement of 1891, U.S.-Cheyenne-Arapaho, Mar. 3, 1891, reprinted in 1 Kappler 415 (1904)) ("1891 Treaty"). The treaty did not specifically mention the Cheyenne-Arapaho's reversionary interest in the Fort Reno lands. See Compl. ¶ 15; 1891 Treaty.

The lawsuit now before the Court involves alleged ambiguities in the treaty signed over 100 years ago, a classified military order and almost a century's worth of litigation. In the end, however, the Court concludes that the United States has not waived its sovereign immunity because the statute of limitations has expired under the Quiet Title Act, and that this Court therefore lacks jurisdiction. Accordingly, the Court will grant defendants' motion to dismiss and will deny plaintiff's Rule 56(f) motion.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Historical Background

In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant established through Executive Order the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma Indian Reservation. See Compl. ¶ 12; 1869 Exec. Order. The reservation was comprised of 5,138,560 acres of land in Oklahoma. See Mot. Ex. C (Plaintiff's Complaint, as a Severed Petition from a previous complaint, before the Indian Claims Commission. Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Indians of Okla. v. United States, Severed Petition, Docket No. 392-329-A (1958) ¶ 17) ("Severed Petition"). In 1883, President Chester A. Arthur signed an Executive Order proclaiming that "[a] tract of land in the Indian Territory, located within the limits of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian Reservation, created by Executive order dated August 10, 1869, be duly declared and set apart by the Executive as a military reservation for the post of Fort Reno . . . ." 1883 Exec. Order at 842. The Order described a 9,493 acre plot located within the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma Indian Reservation, stipulating that the land be "set[] apart for military purposes exclusively . . . ." Id. (emphasis added). Plaintiff alleges that this gave the plaintiff a reversionary interest in the land once it was used for anything other than military purposes. See Compl. ¶ 37. In 1890, plaintiff agreed to relinquish its interest in the reservation established in 1869, subject to the allotment of tracts of land given to individual members of the tribes. See 1891 Treaty at 416. The treaty did not mention plaintiff's reversionary interest in the Fort Reno lands. See id. Congress ratified the agreement in 1891. See id.

In 1948, the Army transferred approximately 7,000 acres of the Fort Reno reserve to the Department of Agriculture for "dairy operations." See Compl. ¶ 20; accord Reply at 27 n.3. Plaintiff alleges that according to a "classified order" issued by the Army in 1954, the acreage transferred to the Department of Agriculture in 1948 was put on military "standby status." See Compl. ¶¶ 22-23. As exhibits to its Opposition, plaintiff supplies several documents stamped "declassified," including a letter dated April 22, 1954, stating: "Need has been established by present mobilization plans for fac[ility] to process and train horses and mules for mil. svc . . . . at D/Agric Beef Cattle Research Station at Fort Reno, Okla . . . . Recommended that fac[ility] listed . . . be retained in standby basis for use of [Quartermaster Corps.] for mobilization needs." Opp. Ex. 2 at 28. Plaintiff alleges that the order was not "declassified" until 1994. See Compl. ¶ 23.

B. The Indian Claims Commission

Only Congress may ratify treaties and regulate commerce between the United States and the Indian tribes. See U.S. CONST. art. I, § 8, cl. 3; art. II, § 2, cl. 2. Each treaty or agreement is ratified through an individual piece of legislation. See, e.g., 1891 Treaty. This protocol led Congressman Henry Jackson, Chairman of the House Committee on Indian Affairs in 1945, to remark, "[W]e are being harassed constantly by various individual pieces of legislation. I do not want to act on separate legislation and Congress is being told to act on those bills, without knowing the facts . . . ." U.S. v. Dann, 470 U.S. 39, 45 (1985) (quoting H.R. REP. NO. 1466 at 10 (1945)). In 1946, Congress established the Indian Claims Commission ("ICC"), a quasi-judicial body given authority to determine the merits of all Indian claims against the United States that accrued prior to August 13, 1946 (the date of the statute's enactment). See Pub L. No. 726, 25 U.S.C. § 70, 60 Stat. 1049 (1946). The "chief purpose of the [Act was] to dispose of the Indian claims problem with finality." U.S. v. Dann, 470 U.S. at 45 (quoting H.R. REP. NO. 1466 at 10 (1945)). Congress hoped the ICC would "sift all these claims [and] subject [them] to appropriate judicial review." Id. at 46. The ICC had only a temporary mandate, and, after several renewals, it was abolished in 1978. See Pub. L. No. 94-465, 25 U.S.C. § 70v, 90 Stat. 1990 (1978).

C. Plaintiff's Litigation History

Plaintiff began litigation in 1929 in the U.S. Court of Claims, alleging that the 1891 Treaty provided inadequate compensation for the 4,608,878 acres of land it ceded.*fn2 See Mot. at 7-8. Plaintiff's attorney died midway through that case, however, and the suit was dismissed in 1941 for lack of prosecution. See id. In 1951, plaintiff filed suit before the ICC, again alleging that its compensation under the 1891 Treaty was inadequate. See Severed Petition ¶ 21. Plaintiff specifically sought compensation, inter alia, for the Fort Reno lands. See id. ¶ 17(b). The suit was delayed again, however, when one of plaintiff's attorneys suddenly died in 1961. See Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Indians of Okla. v. United States, 16 Ind. Cl. Comm. 612, 624 (1966). The suit continued for another four years until 1965, when plaintiff agreed to a $15 million settlement with the defendants. See Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes of Indians of Okla. v. United States, 16 Ind. Cl. Comm. 162, 183 (1966). In the settlement, plaintiff agreed to several "finality clauses," including one which read: "Entry of final judgment in said amount shall finally dispose of all rights, claims or demands which the petitioner has asserted or could have asserted with respect to the subject matter of these claims . . . ." Id. at 171 (quoting Stipulation for Entry of Final Judgment).

The instant litigation centers on alleged ambiguities in the 1891 Treaty and the 1965 ICC settlement. Plaintiff asserts that the rights given up in the 1891 Treaty did not include its reversionary interest in the Fort Reno lands established in the Executive Order of 1883. See Compl. ¶ 15. Plaintiff further alleges that because the 1965 ICC settlement related only to the 1891 Treaty, it has yet to receive adequate compensation for the Fort Reno lands. See id. ¶ 42. As such, plaintiff requests declaratory ...


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