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Maricopa-Stanfield Irrigation & Drainage Dist. v. United States

Citation: 28 ELR 21467
No. 97-16432, 147 F.3d 1168/(9th Cir., 07/07/1998)

The court holds that the federal government's reallocation of excess water to a Native American tribe did not constitute a taking of irrigation districts' water rights. A 1984 federal statute directed a permanent annual supply of water to a Native American tribe and apportioned the excess water to a state water reserve. After the districts entered into subcontracts with the state for a percentage of the excess water, a 1992 statute reallocated the excess water to a second tribe. The court first holds that the districts have standing to sue under the 1992 statute. Although Congress did not define the term "contractor" in the 1992 statute, a reasonable construction of the term would include all entities that had contracted for residual water at the time of the 1992 statute — even those who, like the districts, subsequently amended their subcontracts. Moreover, the districts have alleged an actual injury that is redressable under the 1992 statute. The 1992 statute gave the second tribe a higher priority right to a quantity of water worth more than the districts' lower priority right to the same water. And contrary to arguments by amici curiae, the uncertainty of future damages has no bearing on whether the districts have standing to assert claims for damages that they have already sustained.

The court next holds that the districts' subcontracts standing alone gave them no vested rights to the excess water allocated to the second tribe. The subcontracts did not entitle the districts to excess water, and when the subcontracts were entered, the excess water was not part of the non-Indian agricultural pool. The court then holds that the districts have no valid contractual rights to the excess water under the 1984 statute. The districts have no standing to sue for breach of the 1984 statute. The districts neither relied on nor paid valuable consideration for the excess water. Such water was a windfall to the districts. Accordingly, the districts were incidental beneficiaries of a gratuity that gave rise to no contractual rights against the United States. In addition, even if the 1984 statute entitled the districts to the excess water, the statute did not unmistakably surrender Congress' prerogative to remove the excess water from the water reserves. The districts can point to no language in the 1984 statute that would lead to the unmistakable conclusion that Congress intended their entitlement to persist for any set period. Moreover, the 1984 statute contains no unmistakable language indicating that Congress limited the Secretary of the Interior's authority to reallocate the excess water. Absent such language, Congress' intention to so limit itself is unthinkable.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Robert S. Porter
Ellis, Baker & Porter
2111 E. Highland Ave., Ste. 355, Phoenix AZ 85016
(602) 956-8878

Counsel for Defendant
Richard G. Patrick, Ass't U.S. Attorney
U.S. Attorney's Office
4000 U.S. CtHse.
230 N. First St., Phoenix AZ 85025
(602) 514-7500

Before Goodwin and Ferguson, JJ.