United States v. IdahoAnnotate this Case
Four appeals arose from a consolidated subcase that was a part of the broader Coeur d’Alene-Spokane River Basin Adjudication (CSRBA). The United States Department of the Interior (the United States), as trustee for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe (the Tribe), filed 353 claims in Idaho state court seeking judicial recognition of federal reserved water rights to fulfill the purposes of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s Reservation (the Reservation). The Tribe joined the litigation. The State of Idaho (the State) and others objected to claims asserted by the United States and the Tribe. The district court bifurcated the proceedings to decide only the entitlement to water at this stage, with the quantification stage to follow. After cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court allowed certain claims to proceed and disallowed others. The district court specifically allowed reserved water rights for agriculture, fishing and hunting, and domestic purposes. The district court allowed reserved water rights for instream flows within the Reservation, but disallowed those for instream flows outside the Reservation. The district court determined priority dates for the various claims it found should proceed to quantification, holding generally the Tribe was entitled to a date-of-reservation priority date for the claims for consumptive uses, and a time immemorial priority date for nonconsumptive uses. However, in regard to lands homesteaded on the Reservation by non-Indians that had since been reacquired by the Tribe, the district court ruled the Tribe was entitled to a priority date of a perfected state water right, or if none had been perfected or it had been lost due to nonuse, the Tribe’s priority date would be the date-of-reacquisition. The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Supreme Court determined the district court improperly applied the controlling case law's rule of "primary-secondary" distinction and instead should have allowed aboriginal purposes of plant gathering and cultural uses under the homeland purpose theory. Furthermore, the Court determined the priority date associated with nonconsumptive water rights was time immemorial. The Court affirmed the remainder of the district court’s decisions and remanded for further proceedings.