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Cheyenne Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma v. United States

March 17, 2009


Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 06cv00519).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Griffith, Circuit Judge

Argued January 5, 2009

Before: SENTELLE, Chief Judge, and ROGERS and GRIFFITH, Circuit Judges.

This appeal involves disputed rights to land originally designated as part of a reservation for the Cheyenne Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma and later set apart by executive order as a U.S. military installation. The district court dismissed the Tribes' action to quiet title to the land for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Tribes argue that the court erred in dismissing the case prematurely without allowing for jurisdictional discovery. Because the Tribes fail to specify what facts discovery could produce that would alter the jurisdictional analysis, we hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the Tribes' discovery request.


The train of events from which this appeal arises was set in motion nearly 140 years ago. In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant designated more than five million acres in north-central Oklahoma as a reservation for the Cheyenne Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. Exec. Order (Aug. 10, 1869), reprinted in 1 INDIAN AFFAIRS:

LAWS AND TREATIES 841 (Charles J. Kappler ed., 1904). In 1883, President Chester A. Arthur carved out 9493 acres from within the reservation "for the post of Fort Reno," which was to be used "for military purposes exclusively." Exec. Order (July 17, 1883), reprinted in 1 INDIAN AFFAIRS, supra, at 842--43. The Tribes claim this stipulation gave them a reversionary interest that would vest if the land was used for anything other than military purposes. See Appellant's Br. at 2.

After the cavalry abandoned Fort Reno in 1908, the Army used the post as a remount service depot, breeding and training horses and mules for military use. The Army's use of Fort Reno waned in the 1930s as motor vehicles began to replace horses and mules as the predominant form of military transportation. In 1937, Congress transferred 1000 acres of Fort Reno land to the Department of Justice for use by the Bureau of Prisons as a federal reformatory. Act of May 24, 1937, Pub. L. No. 75-103, 50 Stat. 200. In 1948, Congress transferred the remaining 8493 acres to the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for "livestock and agricultural" purposes, Act of Apr. 21, 1948, Pub. L. No. 80-494, 62 Stat. 197, and the following year USDA began a cooperative research program at Fort Reno studying the selective breeding of beef cattle and swine. Pursuant to an agreement with USDA, the Army continued to use approximately 600 acres at Fort Reno until 1954 to raise and train horses for the Turkish army. See J.A. at 55.

The Tribes allege that the acreage transferred to USDA in 1948 was placed on military "standby status" as part of a classified agreement with the Army in 1954. Appellant's Reply Br. at 5. The government disputes the confidential nature of this arrangement, noting that several newspaper articles from 1954 reported that the Army asked USDA to keep the buildings and pasture acreage previously used for the Turkish aid program ready for possible needs in connection with the "Indo China crisis." See, e.g., Army Asks for Retention of Fort Reno by Government for Possible Military Need, EL RENO AM., May 20, 1954.

In 1890, the Tribes entered a Cession Agreement, ratified by Congress the next year, in which they agreed to relinquish their interest in the reservation, subject to the allotment of 160-acre tracts to individual members of the Tribes. By the terms of the agreement, the Tribes agreed to "cede, convey, transfer, relinquish, and surrender forever and absolutely, without any reservation whatever, express or implied, all their claim, title and interest, of every kind and character, in and to" specified lands, as well as to "all other lands or tracts of country in the Indian territory to which they have or may have set up or allege any right, title, interest or claim whatsoever." Cession Agreement, art. II, 26 Stat. 989, 1022--23 (1891). The agreement made no mention of any reversionary interest the Tribes might have in the Fort Reno land.

In 1958, the Tribes filed suit with the Indian Claims Commission (ICC),*fn1 arguing they had received an unconscionably small consideration for the cession of reservation lands, asserting a claim to the reasonable value of the 9493 acres of Fort Reno, and seeking "reasonable and fair damages for the failure of the Secretary of the Interior to require the return of said lands to the use and benefit of [the Tribes]." J.A. at 264--65. The claims went to trial in 1965, but the Tribes settled for $15 million before the ICC could render a decision. See Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes v. United States, 16 Ind. Cl. Comm. 162 (1965). The settlement agreement contained several finality clauses, including one that read: "Entry of final judgment in said amount shall finally dispose of all rights, claims or demands which the petitioner has asserted or could have asserted with respect to the subject matter of these claims." Id. at 171--72 (quoting Stipulation for Entry of Final Judgment).

In 2006, the Tribes brought suit in district court to quiet title to the Fort Reno land, claiming the property was outside the scope of the 1891 Cession Agreement and that they held a reversionary interest, which vested when the land ceased to be used exclusively for military purposes. The United States moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the ground that the Tribes' claim was barred by the twelve-year statute of limitations in the Quiet Title Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2409a(g) (2000). The United States moved, in the alternative, for summary judgment on its affirmative defense that the 1965 settlement of the Tribes' ICC suit precludes a later quiet title action. The Tribes subsequently filed a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f), arguing that the district court should not decide the statute of limitations issue without first permitting discovery regarding the date on which military use of Fort Reno ended and the Tribes' alleged claim to beneficial title accrued.

The district court denied the Tribes' Rule 56(f) motion, concluding that they failed to "show that additional discovery would be beneficial to . . . establishment of jurisdiction." Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes v. United States, 517 F. Supp. 2d 365, 374 (D.D.C. 2007) (quoting Med. Solutions, Inc. v. C Change Surgical LLC, 468 F. Supp. 2d 130, 135--36 (D.D.C. 2006)). The court granted the government's motion to dismiss, identifying several points in time-each more than twelve years prior to the suit-at which the Tribes "should have been reasonably aware" that the United States had taken action adverse to their alleged reversionary interest in the Fort Reno land. Id. at 371. In a footnote the Court accepted the government's alternative argument that the Tribes lost the right to assert their claim under the terms of the 1965 settlement of their ICC suit. Id. at 372 n.3.*fn2

This appeal followed. The Tribes argue that the district court erred in denying their request for discovery to identify continuing military activity at Fort Reno and in concluding that the settlement of their ICC suit precludes the present quiet title action. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and review the district court's denial of the Tribes' discovery request for abuse of discretion. See FC Inv. Group LC v. IFX Markets, Ltd., 529 F.3d 1087, 1091 (D.C. Cir. 2008). Because we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying jurisdictional discovery and ...

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