Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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Petitioner County of Riverside (the County) challenged Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) findings that the application for adjudication of claim by respondent Peter Sylves was timely filed, and that Labor Code section 5500.5(a) did not bar liability on the County’s part. Sylves was employed by the County as a deputy sheriff. He took a service retirement and then worked for the Pauma Police Department on a reservation belonging to the Pauma Band of Luiseno Indians, a federally recognized tribe. Sylves’ employment with the Pauma Police Department lasted from 2010, through 2014. Sylves filed an application for adjudication of claim on July 16, 2014. He claimed a continuous trauma for “hypertension, GERDS [gastroesophageal reflux disease], left shoulder, low back and both knees.” In 2015, the WCJ found: “Pursuant to Labor Code section 5500.5, applicant’s continuous trauma is limited to the last year of injurious exposure, even if it is with the Pauma Tribal Police.” The WCJ found that Sylves’s knee and left shoulder injuries, his GERDS, and his sleep disorder were not compensable injuries arising in and out of employment. However, he also found that Sylves’ hypertension and back injury were compensable and arose from employment with the County. With respect to the statute of limitations, the WCAB explained that the time in which to file a claim did not begin to run until a doctor told him the symptoms for which he had been receiving treatment were industrially related; since medical confirmation did not occur until 2013, Sylves’ 2014 application was timely. The WCAB further found that section 5500.5 “is not a Statute of Limitations but provides for a supplemental proceeding in which multiple defendants have an opportunity to apportion liability.” Finally, it agreed with Sylves that section 5500.5 could not limit liability to the Pauma Police Department in this case because the WCAB lacked jurisdiction over the tribe. Essentially, the WCAB determined that the County “failed to meet its burden of proof on the Statute of Limitations defenses raised herein.” Finding no reversible error in the WCAB's decision, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Co. of Riverside v. WCAB" on Justia Law

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Petitioners sought review of the EPA's federal implementation plan (FIP) under the Clean Air Act (CAA), 42 U.S.C. 7401, for the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona. The FIP was promulgated under the EPA's Tribal Authority Rule (TAR) that governs CAA requirements on tribal lands. The court concluded that the federal government's partial ownership of the Station does not eliminate any deference to the EPA's interpretation of the CAA and its implementing regulations; the EPA reasonably interpreted the TAR and the Regional Haze Regulations to conclude that the emission reductions deadline in 40 C.F.R. 51.308(e)(2)(iii) does not apply to FIPs for regional haze that are promulgated in place of tribal implementation plans (TIPs); the court deferred to the EPA's determination that the FIP alternative was "better than BART" for nitrous oxide emissions; and the EPA's decision not to determine best available retrofit technology (BART) for particulate matter was a reasonable exercise of the EPA's discretion under the TAR. Accordingly, the court denied the petitions for review. View "Yazzie v. USEPA" on Justia Law