Under the Quiet Title Act of 1972 (QTA),
It is undisputed that under the equal-footing doctrine first set forth in Pollard's Lessee v. Hagan, 3 How. 212 (1845), North Dakota, like other States, became the owner of the beds of navigable streams in the State upon its admission to the Union. It is also agreed that under the law of North Dakota, a riparian owner has title to the center of the bed of a nonnavigable stream. See N. D. Cent. Code § 47-01-15 (1978); Amoco Oil Co. v. State Highway Dept., 262 N.W.2d 726, 728 (N. D. 1978). Because of differing views of navigability, the United States and North Dakota assert competing claims to title to certain portions of the bed of the Little Missouri River within North Dakota. The United States contends that the river is not now and never has been navigable, and it claims most of the disputed area based on its status as riparian landowner.
Seeking to resolve this dispute as to ownership of the riverbed, North Dakota filed this suit in the District Court
The matter thereafter proceeded to trial. North Dakota introduced evidence in support of its claim that the river was navigable on the date of statehood.
After trial, the District Court rendered judgment for North Dakota. The court first concluded that the Little Missouri River was navigable in 1889 and that North Dakota attained title to the bed at statehood under the equal-footing doctrine and the Submerged Lands Act of 1953, 43 U. S. C. § 1311(a). 506 F.Supp. 619, 622-624 (ND 1981). Then, applying what it deemed to be an accepted rule of construction that statutes of limitations do not apply to sovereigns unless a contrary legislative intention is clearly evident from the express language of the statute or otherwise, the court rejected the defendants' claim that North Dakota's suit was barred by the QTA's 12-year statute of limitations, 28 U. S. C. § 2409a(f). 506 F. Supp., at 625-626.
The States of the Union, like all other entities, are barred by federal sovereign immunity from suing the United States in the absence of an express waiver of this immunity by Congress. California v. Arizona, 440 U.S. 59, 61-62 (1979); Minnesota v. United States, 305 U.S. 382, 387 (1939); Kansas v. United States, 204 U.S. 331, 342 (1907). Only upon passage of the QTA did the United States waive its immunity with respect to suits involving title to land. Prior to 1972, States and all others asserting title to land claimed by the United States had only limited means of obtaining a resolution of the title dispute — they could attempt to induce the United States to file a quiet title action against them, or they could petition Congress or the Executive for discretionary relief. Also, since passage of the Tucker Act in 1887, those claimants willing to settle for monetary damages rather than
Enterprising claimants also pressed the so-called "officer's suit" as another possible means of obtaining relief in a title dispute with the Federal Government. In the typical officer's suit involving a title dispute, the claimant would proceed against the federal officials charged with supervision of the disputed area, rather than against the United States. The suit would be in ejectment or, as here, for an injunction or a writ of mandamus forbidding the defendant officials to interfere with the claimant's property rights.
As a device for circumventing federal sovereign immunity in land title disputes, the officer's suit ultimately did not prove to be successful. This Court appeared to accept the device in early cases. See United States v. Lee, 106 U.S. 196 (1882); Meigs v. M'Clung's Lessee, 9 Cranch 11 (1815). Later cases, however, were inconsistent; some held that such suits were barred by sovereign immunity, while others did not, and "it is fair to say that to reconcile completely all the decisions of the Court in this field . . . would be a Procrustean task." Malone v. Bowdoin, supra, at 646. Compare, e. g., the cases cited 369 U. S., at 646, n. 6, with those cited id., at 646, n. 7.
In Malone, the Court cut through the tangle of the previous decisions and applied to land disputes the rule announced in Larson v. Domestic & Foreign Corp., 337 U.S. 682 (1949):
Against this background, Congress considered and passed the QTA in 1972. At a hearing on the bill, the officer's-suit possibility was called to the attention of Congress.
Congress sought to rectify this state of affairs. The original version of S. 216, the bill that became the QTA, was short and simple. Its substantive provision provided for no qualifications whatsoever. It stated in its entirety: "The United States may be named a party in any civil action brought by any person to quiet title to lands claimed by the United States." 117 Cong. Rec. 46380 (1971). The Executive Branch opposed the original version of S. 216 and proposed,
This Executive proposal, made by the Justice Department, limited the waiver of sovereign immunity in several important respects. First, it excluded Indian lands from the scope of the waiver. The Executive Branch felt that a waiver of immunity in this area would not be consistent with "specific commitments" it had made to the Indians through treaties and other agreements.
The Senate accepted the Justice Department's proposal, with the notable exception of the provision that would have
Primarily because of the grandfather clause, the Executive Branch could still not accept the bill. The Department of Justice argued that this clause could cause "a flood of litigation on old claims, many of which had already been submitted to the Congress and rejected," thereby putting "an undue burden on the Department and the courts."
In light of this legislative history, we need not be detained long by North Dakota's contention that it can avoid the QTA's statute of limitations and other restrictions by the device of an officer's suit. If North Dakota's position were correct, all of the carefully crafted provisions of the QTA deemed necessary for the protection of the national public interest
If we were to allow claimants to try the Federal Government's title to land under an officer's-suit theory, the Indian lands exception to the QTA would be rendered nugatory. The United States could also be dispossessed of the disputed property without being afforded the option of paying damages, thereby thwarting the congressional intent to avoid disruptions of costly federal activities. Finally, and most relevant to the present cases, the QTA's 12-year statute of limitations, the one point on which the Executive Branch was most insistent, could be avoided, and, contrary to the wish of Congress, an unlimited number of suits involving stale claims might be instituted.
Brown v. GSA, supra, is instructive here. In that case, we held that § 717 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-16, was the exclusive remedy for federal employment discrimination. There, as here, it was "problematic" whether any judicial relief at all was available prior to passage of the Act; the prevailing congressional view was that there was none. 425 U. S., at 826-828. There, as here, the "balance, completeness, and structural integrity" of the statute belied the contention that it "was designed merely to supplement other putative judicial relief." Id., at 832. Thus, we applied the rule that a precisely drawn, detailed statute pre-empts more general remedies. Id., at 834.
Accordingly, we need not reach the question whether, prior to 1972, Larson v. Domestic & Foreign Corp., 337 U.S. 682
We also cannot agree with North Dakota's submission, which was accepted by the District Court and the Court of Appeals, that the States are not subject to the operation of § 2409a(f). This issue is purely one of statutory interpretation, and we find no support for North Dakota's position in either the plain statutory language or the legislative history. The basic rule of federal sovereign immunity is that the United States cannot be sued at all without the consent of Congress. A necessary corollary of this rule is that when Congress attaches conditions to legislation waiving the sovereign immunity of the United States, those conditions must be strictly observed, and exceptions thereto are not to be lightly implied. See, e. g., Lehman v. Nakshian, 453 U.S. 156, 160-161 (1981); United States v. Kubrick, 444 U.S. 111, 117-118 (1979); Honda v. Clark, 386 U.S. 484, 501 (1967); Soriano v. United States, 352 U.S. 270 (1957); United States v. Sherwood, 312 U.S. 584, 591 (1941). When waiver legislation contains a statute of limitations, the limitations provision constitutes a condition on the waiver of sovereign immunity. Accordingly, although we should not construe such a time-bar provision unduly restrictively, we must be careful not to interpret it in a manner that would "extend the waiver beyond that which Congress intended." United States v. Kubrick, supra, at 117-118 (citing Soriano v. United States, supra; Indian Towing Co. v. United States, 350 U.S. 61 (1955)). Accordingly, before finding that Congress intended here to exempt the States from satisfying the time-bar condition on its waiver of immunity, we should insist on some clear indication of such an intention.
Proceeding in accordance with these well-established principles, we observe that § 2409a(f) expressly states that any civil action is time-barred unless filed within 12 years after the date it accrued. The statutory language makes no exception for civil actions by States. Nor is there any evidence
The State, however, relies on the well-known canon of statutory construction that "[s]tatutes of limitation are not. . . held to embrace the State, unless she is expressly designated, or necessarily included by the nature of the mischiefs to be remedied." Weber v. Board of Harbor Comm'rs, 18 Wall. 57, 70 (1873). Accord, Guaranty Trust Co. v. United States, 304 U.S. 126, 132-133 (1938). Because § 2409a(f) does not expressly include the State, North Dakota urges, and the Court of Appeals held, that the State was not barred by the statute. While recognizing that immunity waivers by the United States are to be carefully construed, the Court of Appeals concluded that precedence should be given to the competing canon of statutory construction that statutes of limitations should not apply to the States absent express legislative inclusion. 671 F. 2d, at 275-276.
We do not agree. In fashioning sovereign-immunity waiver legislation, Congress is certainly free to exempt the States from a statute of limitations or any other condition of the waiver. But there is no merit to North Dakota's assertion that a condition on a congressional waiver of federal sovereign immunity should be regarded as inapplicable to
Even assuming, however, that this rule has relevance in construing the applicability to the States of a congressionally imposed statute of limitations not expressly including the States, here the will of Congress is apparent and we must follow it. As the legislative history outlined in Part II above shows, Congress agreed with the Executive that § 2409a(f) was necessary for protection of national public interests. In general, a suit by a State against the United States affects the congressionally recognized national public interests to the same degree as does a suit by a private entity. Therefore, the judge-created rule designed to protect the interests of the citizens of one particular State must yield in the face of the evidence that Congress has determined that the national interest requires a contrary rule. We are convinced that Congress had no intention of exempting the States from compliance with § 2409a(f). That section must be applied to the States because they are "necessarily included by the nature of the mischiefs to be remedied." Weber v. Board of Harbor Comm'rs, supra, at 70. We thus conclude that States must fully adhere to the requirements of § 2409a(f) when suing the United States under the QTA.
North Dakota finally argues that, even if Congress intended to apply § 2409a(f) to it, and even if valid when applied in suits relating to other kinds of land, the section is unconstitutional under the equal-footing doctrine and the Tenth Amendment insofar as it purports to bar claims to lands constitutionally vested in the State. We are unable to agree.
The State probably is correct in stating that Congress could not, without making provision for payment of compensation, pass a law depriving a State of land vested in it by the Constitution. Such a law would not run afoul of the equal-footing doctrine or the Tenth Amendment, as asserted by North Dakota, but it would constitute a taking of the State's property without just compensation, in violation of the Fifth Amendment.
Thus, we see no constitutional infirmity in § 2409a(f). A constitutional claim can become time-barred just as any other claim can. See, e. g., Board of Regents v. Tomanio, 446 U.S. 478 (1980); Soriano v. United States, 352 U.S. 270 (1957). Nothing in the Constitution requires otherwise.
Admittedly, North Dakota comes before us with an appealing case. Both lower courts held that the Little Missouri is navigable and that the State obtained title to the disputed land at statehood. The federal defendants have not asked this Court to review the correctness of these substantive holdings other than to submit that these determinations are time-barred by the QTA.
In view of the foregoing, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed. North Dakota's action may proceed, if at
JUSTICE O'CONNOR, dissenting.
I agree with the Court that the sole remedy available to North Dakota is an action under the Quiet Title Act. Having concluded that Congress has permitted such suits, though, I would not reject the usual rule that statutes of limitation do not bar a sovereign, a rule that is especially appropriate in the context of these cases. Consequently, I dissent.
Since the Quiet Title Act is the sole relief available to North Dakota, we confront the question whether Congress intended the statute of limitations to bar actions by States. The Court resolves the question by invocation of the principle that waivers of sovereign immunity are to be strictly construed. See ante, at 287.
Although it is indeed true that the Court construes waivers of sovereign immunity strictly, that principle of statutory construction is no more than an aid in the task of determining congressional intent. In a close case, it may help the Court
The common law has long accepted the principle "nullum tempus occurrit regi" — neither laches nor statutes of limitations will bar the sovereign. See, e. g., 10 W. Holdsworth, A History of English Law 355 (1938); D. Gibbons, A Treatise on the Law of Limitation and Prescription 62 (1835). The courts of this country accepted the principle from English law. See, e. g., Weber v. Board of Harbor Comm'rs, 18 Wall. 57 (1873); United States v. Kirkpatrick, 9 Wheat. 720, 735 (1824); Iverson & Robinson v. Dubose, 27 Ala. 418, 422 (1855); Stoughton v. Baker, 4 Mass. 522, 528 (1803); see generally J. May, Angell on Limitations 29-30 (5th ed. 1869). As this Court observed: "So complete has been its acceptance that the implied immunity of the domestic `sovereign,' state or national, has been universally deemed to be an exception to local statutes of limitations where the government, state or national, is not expressly included." Guaranty Trust Co. v. United States, 304 U.S. 126, 133 (1938). In this country, courts adopted the rule, not on the theory that an "impeccable" sovereign could not be guilty of laches, but because of the public policies served by the doctrine. The public interest in preserving public rights and property from injury and loss attributable to the negligence of public officers and agents, through whom the public must act, justified a special rule for the sovereign.
Accord, Guaranty Trust Co. v. United States, supra, at 132; Weber v. Board of Harbor Comm'rs, supra, at 68, 70; United States v. Knight, 14 Pet. 301, 314 (1840); J. May, supra, at 29.
The lands in controversy here are held in trust for the public by North Dakota, see App. to Pet. for Cert. in No. 81-2337, p. A-6; United Plainsmen v. North Dakota State
The Court, however, dismisses this rule, apparently on the theory that it does not apply in actions between two sovereigns. But the authority that it cites for that proposition is weak at best. United States v. Louisiana, 127 U.S. 182 (1888), involved a claim for money rather than a dispute to title over public trust lands. More important, the parties never argued for the application of the rule that time does not bar the sovereign. See Brief for Appellant and Brief for Appellee in United States v. Louisiana, O. T. 1887, No. 1388. The Court's decision in that case therefore cannot serve as authority for rejecting the rule when, as is the situation here, it is raised. Nor does Minnesota v. United States, 305 U.S. 382 (1939), support the Court. There, a State sought to sue the United States in state court. Construing the waiver of sovereign immunity narrowly, we held that the United States had only waived its immunity as to suits in federal court, and we applied that condition against the State. Since no general rule permits a sovereign to maintain a suit in any forum it chooses, the holding of Minnesota reflects nothing more than the usual reluctance to construe waivers of sovereign immunity broadly in the absence of any countervailing considerations.
Thus, our precedents do not reject the principle that time does not bar the sovereign in conflicts between sovereigns. On the contrary, our precedents suggest that a sovereign can invoke this principle against another sovereign. In Rhode Island v. Massachusetts, 15 Pet. 233 (1841), the Court declined to apply the ordinary rule of limitations in a dispute between sovereign States. Chief Justice Taney observed: "[I]t would be impossible with any semblance of justice to adopt such a rule of limitation in the case before us. For here two political communities are concerned, who cannot act with the
Turning to the statute at issue here, the circumstances of its enactment indicate that Congress did not intend to bar actions by States. As general background, we know that Congress was aware of the rule that, to affect the government, an enactment imposing a burden or a limitation must expressly include the sovereign. See, e. g., Wilson v. Omaha Indian Tribe, 442 U.S. 653, 667 (1979). The particular incident that spurred Congress to pass the Quiet Title Act was a dispute between private landowners and the Federal Government. See Hearings on S. 216 et al. before the Subcommittee on Public Lands of the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, 92d Cong., 1st Sess., 83-85 (1971) (affidavit of A. L. Robinson). The statements in the hearings reflect a focus on disputes between private citizens and the Federal Government. See, e. g., id., at 20 (statement of Shiro
Indeed, this Court has already been called upon to conform the provisions of the Quiet Title Act — enacted by Congress with private citizens in mind — to the special requirements of litigation involving States. In California v. Arizona, 440 U.S. 59 (1979), California sought to sue Arizona and the United States, in a quiet title action in which both defendants were indispensable parties. Under the Constitution, this Court had original jurisdiction over the claim against Arizona, U. S. Const., Art. III, § 2, and Congress had conferred exclusive jurisdiction on this Court. 28 U. S. C. § 1251(a)(1). The claim against the United States, however, could only be maintained under the Quiet Title Act, which vested exclusive jurisdiction in the district courts. 28 U. S. C. § 1346(f). In spite of the general language placing all quiet title actions against the United States in the district courts, we concluded that Congress did not intend to divest this Court of its jurisdiction. Thus, while Congress clearly intended that States be able to maintain quiet title actions, the procedural provisions drafted with the private citizen in mind need not be applied with slavish literalness to States.
Finally, we cannot ignore the special nature of the lands at issue in this case. The beds of navigable waters pass to the States when they achieve statehood under the constitutional
The provision relevant to the present case, 28 U. S. C. § 2409a, states:
"(a) The United States may be named as a party defendant in a civil action under this section to adjudicate a disputed title to real property in which the United States claims an interest, other than a security interest or water rights. This section does not apply to trust or restricted Indian lands, nor does it apply to or affect actions which may be or could have been brought under sections 1346, 1347, 1491, or 2410 of this title, sections 7424, 7425, or 7426 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, as amended (26 U. S. C. 7424, 7425, and 7426), or section 208 of the Act of July 10, 1952 (43 U. S. C. 666).
"(b) The United States shall not be disturbed in possession or control of any real property involved in any action under this section pending a final judgment or decree, the conclusion of any appeal therefrom, and sixty days; and if the final determination shall be adverse to the United States, the United States nevertheless may retain such possession or control of the real property or of any part thereof as it may elect, upon payment to the person determined to be entitled thereto of an amount which upon such election the district court in the same action shall determine to be just compensation for such possession or control.
"(c) The complaint shall set forth with particularity the nature of the right, title, or interest which the plaintiff claims in the real property, the circumstances under which it was acquired, and the right, title, or interest claimed by the United States.
"(d) If the United States disclaims all interest in the real property or interest therein adverse to the plaintiff at any time prior to the actual commencement of the trial, which disclaimer is confirmed by order of the court, the jurisdiction of the district court shall cease unless it has jurisdiction of the civil action or suit on ground other than and independent of the authority conferred by section 1346(f) of this title.
"(e) A civil action against the United States under this section shall be tried by the court without a jury.
"(f) Any civil action under this section shall be barred unless it is commenced within twelve years of the date upon which it accrued. Such action shall be deemed to have accrued on the date the plaintiff or his predecessor in interest knew or should have known of the claim of the United States.
"(g) Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit suits against the United States based upon adverse possession."
The defendants also argued in the District Court that the United States had acquired title to the bed by adverse possession, and that, in any event, the suit was barred by laches. The District Court rejected both of these contentions, id., at 624-626, and the defendants did not pursue them further.
"It is determined and declared to be in the public interest that (1) title to and ownership of the lands beneath navigable waters within the boundaries of the respective States, and the natural resources within such lands and waters, and (2) the right and power to manage, administer, lease, develop, and use the said lands and natural resources all in accordance with applicable State law be, and they are, subject to the provisions hereof, recognized, confirmed, established, and vested in and assigned to the respective States . . . ."