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United States v. Tohono O'Odham Nation

ELR Citation: 41 ELR 20159
Nos. No. 09-846, (U.S., 04/26/2011)

The U.S. Supreme Court held that a Native American tribe's suit against federal officials in district court seeking equitable relief for their alleged breach of fiduciary duty precludes jurisdiction over the tribe's suit against the United States for monetary damages in the Court of Federal Claims (CFC) for the same breach. The CFC held that it lacked jurisdiction based on 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, but the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed, holding that the CFC suit was not barred. The Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the Federal Circuit. Two suits are "for or in respect to" the same claim if they are based on substantially the same operative facts, regardless of the relief sought in each suit. Here, the substantial overlap in operative facts between the tribe's district court and CFC suits precludes jurisdiction in the CFC. Both actions allege that the United States holds the same assets in trust for the tribe's benefit, and they describe almost identical breaches of fiduciary duty. Kennedy, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C.J., and Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, JJ., joined. Sotomayor J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Breyer, J., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Kagan, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.