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United States v. Washington

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
827 F.3d 836 (2016)


In 1854 and 1855, the territory of Washington made treaties with Indian tribes in the Pacific Northwest guaranteeing certain fishing rights. In 1970, the United States (plaintiff), acting on behalf of the tribes, sued the state of Washington (defendant) to enforce the treaty obligations. The case was bifurcated into two parts. In part one, the court determined that the treaties gave the tribes the right to harvest one half of the harvestable fish in the region. In part two, the court held that Washington was obligated to prevent environmental degradation that threatened the quantity of available fish. However, the court held that environmental obligations under the treaty had to be resolved on an individualized basis, based upon particular issues and disputes. The court retained jurisdiction. In 2001, the tribes sued Washington, contending that Washington had violated its environmental duties under the treaties by erecting barrier culverts on streams, which inhibited salmon from passing. The District Court for the Western District of Washington ruled for the tribes, ordering Washington to compile a list of barrier culverts, to remedy the culverts that blocked the most salmon by 2016, to remedy other high-volume culverts within 17 years, and to remedy the remaining culverts when they would normally be replaced.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Fletcher, J.)

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