United States v. Board of Directors

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Water Rights
  • Date Filed: 07-22-2013
  • Case #: 12-15474, 12-15476, 12-15594, 12-15595, 12-15599
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Schroeder for the Court, Circuit Judges Berzon and Bybee
  • Full Text Opinion

A court mandate may be corrected in extraordinary circumstances where the panel erred in an earlier decision to the detriment of a body of water, and failure to correct the mandate would result in a decision contrary to the purpose of the enacted irrigation limitations.

On behalf of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Tribe, the government has a fiduciary duty to oversee the water flow into Pyramid Lake according to certain operating criteria and procedures. These procedures measure how much water may be diverted by the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District ("TCID"), while still ensuring the Lake receives the appropriate amount of water to sustain itself and the resident endangered species. Litigation is ongoing between the parties concerning excessive water diversions taken from the Lake over the course of numerous years, the most recent opinion being United States v. Bell. In Bell, the Court held the district court erred in calculating the excess diversions by not appropriately accounting for the margin of error in the gauges measuring the diversion flow. In its mandate to the district court, the panel ordered a recalculation for four specific years when excess diversions occurred. The government and Tribe appealed this limitation. The Ninth Circuit held that it was mistaken regarding the scope of the gauge error, and should not have limited the recalculation mandate in Bell to only four years. Rather, the panel held it should have ordered recalculation of all years potentially affected. The panel noted it would not ordinarily disturb a mandate, but this particular mistake by the panel needed to be remedied, otherwise the Lake would suffer while TCID would benefit from a failure to correct the gauge error calculation. The panel withdrew the mandate and ordered the district court to recalculate the gauge error and determine any excess diversions for 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1985, and 1986. The panel also held Churchill County and the State of Nevada do not have standing on this appeal, as they were not affected by the Bell judgment. DISMISSED, VACATED AND REMANDED.

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