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San Carlos Apache Tribe v. United States

Citation: 41 ELR 20158
No. No. 2010-5102, (Fed. Cir., 04/25/2011)

The Federal Circuit upheld the dismissal of a Native American tribe's Tucker Act claim against the United States for an alleged breach of fiduciary duty relating to water rights in the Gila River. A consent decree establishing water rights among the tribe and landowners along the river was entered in 1935. In 2009, the tribe filed a claim for monetary damages against the government, alleging that the United States' inadequate representation and failure to secure and protect its aboriginal and federal reserved water rights under the decree constituted a serious breach of fiduciary duty. But an action brought under the Tucker Act is time barred unless it is filed within six years of the date that the cause of action accrued. The tribe asserted that its claim against the United States did not become ripe until the Arizona Supreme Court issued a decision in 2006 holding that the tribe's claims for water rights were precluded by the 1935 decree. But the government's alleged liability for breaching its fiduciary duty to the tribe was objectively fixed upon entry of the decree in 1935. Although the tribe did not have actual knowledge of all the relevant facts at that time, the tribe should have known upon entry of the decree that the government's breach occurred.