Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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After discovering methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia in the home of Mother, Mother’s three children were removed from the home. The State initiated abuse and neglect proceedings against Mother, an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe (Tribe). More than one year later, the Tribe and Mother submitted motions to transfer the proceedings to the Tribe’s jurisdiction. The circuit court denied the motions. Following a final dispositional hearing, the court terminated Mother’s parental rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Mother was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on the question of whether good cause existed to deny the motions to transfer jurisdiction to the Tribe, and therefore, the circuit court abused its discretion by denying the motions. View "In re Interest of A.O." on Justia Law

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The Lewises, driving on a Connecticut interstate, were struck by a vehicle driven by Clarke, a Tribal Gaming Authority employee, who was transporting Mohegan Sun Casino patrons. The Lewises sued Clarke in his individual capacity. The Supreme Court of Connecticut held that tribal sovereign immunity barred the suit because Clarke was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred and did not consider whether Clarke should be entitled to sovereign immunity based on an indemnification statute. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed. In a suit against a tribal employee in his individual capacity, the employee, not the tribe, is the real party in interest; tribal sovereign immunity is not implicated. The suit is based on Clarke's personal actions. Clarke, not the Gaming Authority, is the real party in interest. The Connecticut Supreme Court extended sovereign immunity for tribal employees beyond what common-law sovereign immunity principles would recognize for either state or federal employees. An indemnification provision cannot, as a matter of law, extend sovereign immunity to individual employees who would otherwise not fall under its protective cloak. Connecticut courts exercise no jurisdiction over the Tribe or Gaming Authority and indemnification is not a certainty, because Clarke will not be indemnified should the Gaming Authority determine that he engaged in “wanton, reckless, or malicious” activity. View "Lewis v. Clarke" on Justia Law

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The State of New Mexico sued the Department of the Interior (“DOI”) to challenge its authority to promulgate the regulations found at 25 C.F.R. 291 et seq. (“Part 291”). The challenged regulations concerned the process under which Indian tribes and states negotiate compacts to allow gaming on Indian lands. Congress established in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”). The Supreme Court would later decide, however, Congress lacked the authority to make states subject to suit by Indian tribes in federal court. However, the Court left intact the bulk of IGRA, and Congress has not amended it in the intervening years. As relevant here, the Part 291 process was implicated after the Pueblo of Pojoaque tribe sued New Mexico under IGRA and the State asserted sovereign immunity. Following the dismissal of the case on sovereign-immunity grounds, the Pojoaque asked the Secretary to prescribe gaming procedures pursuant to Part 291. Before the Secretary did so, New Mexico filed the underlying suit, seeking a declaration that the Part 291 regulations were not a valid exercise of the Secretary’s authority. The Pojoaque intervened. The district court granted New Mexico’s motion for summary judgment and denied that of DOI, holding that the Part 291 regulations were invalid and barred the Secretary from taking any further action on the Pojoaque’s request for the issuance of gaming procedures under them. DOI and the Pojoaque appealed that order, challenging the State’s standing, the ripeness of the dispute, and the district court’s holding that Part 291 was an invalid exercise of the Secretary’s authority. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "New Mexico v. Dept. of the Interior" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants, a certified class of Osage tribal members who owned headrights, appealed the district court’s accounting order. Plaintiffs alleged that the government was improperly distributing royalties to non-Osage tribal members, which diluted the royalties for the Osage tribal members, the rightful headright owners. The complaint attributed this misdistribution to the government’s mismanagement of the trust assets and the government’s failure to perform an accounting. Thus, Plaintiffs sought to compel the government to perform an accounting and to prospectively restrict royalty payments to Osage tribal members and their heirs. The district court dismissed Plaintiffs’ accounting claim because it found that the applicable statute only required the government to account for deposits, not withdrawals, and that such an accounting would not support Plaintiffs’ misdistribution claim. After review, the Tenth Circuit could not say the district court abused its discretion. "The accounting the district court fashioned will certainly inform Plaintiffs of the trust receipts and disbursements and to whom those disbursements were made." View "Fletcher v. United States" on Justia Law

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Officials of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (the Department) challenged the trial court's order granting a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by Gregory Rhoades, a Native American prisoner incarcerated at Calipatria State Prison (Calipatria). In granting Rhoades's petition, the trial court concluded that the prohibition on the use of straight tobacco during prisoners' Native American religious ceremonies violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) and it ordered the California Department of Corrections to "formulate and implement policies permitting and reasonably regulating the possession and use of straight tobacco" during those ceremonies. The Court of Appeals concluded the trial court improperly granted relief in favor of Rhoades without holding an evidentiary hearing on disputed factual issues, and reversed and remanded matter with directions that the trial court hold an evidentiary hearing. View "In re Rhoades" on Justia Law

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K.B. appealed a judgment terminating her parental rights to her two children, Jc.L. and Ja.L. K.B. contended the juvenile court erred in terminating her parental rights because the court failed to comply with "the inquiry/notice requirements" of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). After review of the trial court record, the Court of appeals concluded the trial court properly determined that the Agency did not violate ICWA's inquiry and notice provisions. View "In re J.L." on Justia Law

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The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) (the Tribe) decided to pursue gaming pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) on its trust lands in Dukes County, Massachusetts (the Settlement Lands). The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Town of Aquinnah, and the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association (collectively, Appellees) argued that any gaming on the Settlement Lands should be subject to state, rather than federal, laws and regulations. The district court granted summary judgment for Appellees, ruling that the Settlement Lands were not covered by IGRA and hence were subject to the Commonwealth’s gaming regulations. The court found that the Tribe had failed to exercise sufficient governmental power over those lands, as required for IGRA to apply, and even if the Tribe had exercised sufficient governmental power the Wampanoag Tribal Council of Gay Head, Inc., Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1987 (the Federal Act), which provides that the Settlement Lands are subject to state laws and regulations, governed. The First Circuit reversed, holding (1) IGRA applies to the Settlement Lands; and (2) the Federal Act has been impliedly repealed by IGRA in relevant part. View "Commonwealth v. Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head" on Justia Law

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The Navajo Nation filed suit to enforce a proposed funding agreement. By law, the BIA had 90 days after receipt to act on the proposal or it would be deemed approved. The BIA did not consider the proposal "received" until normal government operations later resumed after a government shutdown. The district court granted summary judgment to the DOI. The court explained that even if the government employee violated the Anti-Deficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. 1341(a), 1342, by accepting the Navajo Nation's proposal, the agency was nonetheless bound by the consequences of him doing so. The court rejected the DOI's claim that the Navajo Nation is equitably estopped from disputing the timeliness of the declination after remaining silent in the face of the BIA's repeated assertions of its position on the matter. The court also rejected the DOI's claim that equitable tolling of the 90-day deadline is appropriate for the period of the government shutdown. The court concluded that this case did not present the sort of extraordinary circumstances that justify equitable tolling. Finally, the court rejected the DOI's challenge to the award amount. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment. View "Navajo Nation v. DOI" on Justia Law

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Defendant moved to dismiss charges of federal felony offenses, arguing that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because a 1905 Act of Congress diminished the Red Lake Reservation, removing the town of Redby from Indian country. The district court denied the motion and defendant conditionally plead guilty. The court concluded that the record did not adequately support the district court’s determination that Redby is part of Indian country as a matter of law. Therefore, the court vacated the order, allowed defendant to withdraw his plea, and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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Jason Goffe and Michael Petrarca were high-speed racing when Goffe lost control of his vehicle and whirled into the eastbound lane. William Walmsley struck Goffe’s vehicle, killing Goffe and his passenger, Brendan O’Connell Roberti. Roberti’s parents (Plaintiffs) sued several defendants, including Walmsley. Because of settlement releases, Walmsley was the sole defendant who advanced to trial. A jury found Walmsley negligent and that his negligence was a proximate cause of Roberti’s death. Defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law, which the trial justice granted. Plaintiffs moved for a new trial and requested an additur to $250,000. The trial justice ruled conditionally that, if Defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law was overturned on appeal, he would grant Plaintiffs’ motion for additur. The Supreme Court vacated the superior court’s judgment and remanded for additional proceedings. On remand, Plaintiffs sought judgment against Walmsley for $250,000 per the additur. The hearing justice granted summary judgment for Defendant, finding that because Plaintiffs settled their claims against Goffe and Petrarca in the amount of $395,000, there was no basis for holding Walmsley individually liable for $250,000. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Wrongful Death Act is subject to joint and several liability principles. View "O’Connell v. Walmsley" on Justia Law