On July 9, 2014, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, accusing the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Interior for illegally approving drilling leases on aboriginal or native land in Texas, in Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas v. United States of America, et al., No. 13-40644 (5th Cir. 2014). The court found that the federal government had sovereign immunity from suit.
The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, which is a federally recognized Indian tribe, asserted that it held unextinguished aboriginal title to approximately 400,000 acres of land in East Texas in the Davy Crockett and Sam Houston National Forests and in the Big Thicket National Preserve. In 2000, the Court of Federal Claims agreed that the Tribe held aboriginal title to the lands. See Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas v. United States, No. 3-83, 2000 WL 1013532 (Fed. Cl. June 19, 2000). The Tribe claimed that the United States and its agencies breached its fiduciary duty to protect the land and natural resources subject to the Tribe’s title.
In issuing its ruling, the Fifth Circuit found that in order to maintain an action against the United States, there must be a waiver of sovereign immunity. In this case, the only applicable waiver would come from the Administrative Procedures Act, 5 U.S.C. §702. The court found that the Tribe failed to point to any identifiable “agency action” within the meaning of §702.
For more information, contact Toni Ellington at 504-599-8500.