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Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: June 18, 2012
Case #: 11-551
Sotomayor, J., delivered opinion, joined by Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Kagan, JJ.; Roberts, C.J. dissented, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Alito J.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/11-551.pdf

Tribal Law: Under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. § 450 et seq.) the government is required to pay each tribal contract support costs in full.

Respondent Indian tribes entered into contracts with the Secretary of Interior for a variety of services as described in the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. § 450 et seq.) (ISDA). The Secretary was unable to pay every contractor in full and paid Respondents on a pro rata uniform basis.

Respondents sued under the Contract Disputes Act (41 U.S.C. § 601 et seq.) (“CDA”) and the trial court granted summary judgment for the government. The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed and held the government liable to each contractor for the full amount.

The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that under the ISDA the Secretary is required to pay each tribe the “full support costs” incurred in performing the contract “subject to the availability of appropriations.” The ISDA also entitles contractors to pursue money damages for breach of contract under the CDA. The Court held that the government’s obligation to pay tribal contracts is to be treated as an ordinary contract dispute and did not require a special rule based on “subject to appropriations” language. Congress made sufficient funds available and it does not matter that the agency allocated those funds for other purposes. If Congress appropriates adequate funds for the contract, contractors are not required to “keep track” of the government’s competing obligations.