Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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The Oklahoma Shawnee Tribe challenged the allocation of funds under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 801(a)(1). Of the $150 billion appropriated, the Act reserved $8 billion for “Tribal governments.” The amount paid to a Tribal government is determined by the Secretary of the Treasury “based on increased expenditures of each such Tribal government . . . relative to aggregate expenditures in fiscal year 2019 by the Tribal government." Rather than using the enrollment numbers submitted by the tribes, the Secretary relied on tribal population data used by HUD in connection with the Indian Housing Block Grant program.” That data does not reflect actual enrollment. The Secretary’s decision to use IHBG data had an unfortunate impact on the Shawnee Tribe, which had over $6.6 million in expenditures in 2019, and “incurred significant medical and public health expenses in responding to the devastation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.” It received $100,000.The district court, finding the allocation of funds under the Act unreviewable, dismissed the case. The D.C. Circuit reversed, with directions to enter a preliminary injunction promptly. By requiring that the allocations be “based on increased expenditures,” Congress has not left the Secretary with “unbounded” discretion. The court noted that the Secretary acknowledged that the IHBG data was inadequate as a proxy for increased expenditures in some cases but did not seek alternative information for the 25 tribes with no IHBG population. View "Shawnee Tribe v. Mnuchin" on Justia Law

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Two of L.K.’s three children were Indian children for the purposes of federal Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) and Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act (WICWA). L.K. claimed the State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (Department) removed her children without making "active efforts" to keep the family together as was required under the two laws. The Court of Appeals did not address this issue but, instead, sua sponte found that under the invited error doctrine, L.K. was precluded from raising this issue on appeal, holding that because L.K. repeatedly contended she did not need services, she could not now claim on appeal that the Department did not provide her sufficient services under ICWA and WICWA. It did not reach the issue of whether the Department provided active efforts. The Washington Supreme Court reversed appellate court's holding regarding "invited error." With respect to "active efforts," the Supreme Court found the Department did not engage in the statutorily required active efforts to prevent the breakup of an Indian family. Accordingly, the dispositional order continuing L.R.C.K.-S. and D.B.C.K.-S.’s foster care placement was vacated. The matter was remanded for immediate return of these two children to their mother, unless the trial court finds returning the children put them in “substantial and immediate danger or threat of such danger.” The finding of dependency was unaffected. View "In re Dependency of A.L.K., L.R.C.K.-S., D.B.C.K.-S." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit filed: (1) an order amending its opinion, denying a petition for panel rehearing, and denying on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc; and (2) an amended opinion reversing the district court's dismissal for lack of standing of a tribal health organization's action seeking declaratory relief regarding alleged violations of a federal law concerning the provision of health services to Alaska Natives.The panel concluded that SCF alleges an injury in fact in two distinct ways: first, that ANTHC infringed SCF's governance and participation rights under Section 325 of the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 1998 by delegating the full authority of the fifteen-member Board to the five-person Executive Committee; and second, that ANTHC erected informational barriers in the Code of Conduct and Disclosure Policy that deprived SCF of its ability to exercise effectively its governance and participation rights. View "Southcentral Foundation v. Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against defendant and the Hoopa Valley Tribe for violations of state tort and contract law. The district court, ruling on a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, found sovereign immunity barred suit against defendant, in his official capacity, and the Hoopa Valley Tribe, dismissing the claims with prejudice.The Fifth Circuit held that it lacked original jurisdiction, concluding that the district court did not have federal-question jurisdiction over this case; the Hoopa Valley's presence as a party to the suit destroyed complete diversity and thus the district court did not have diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1332; and the district court did not have supplemental jurisdiction over this case under 28 U.S.C. 1367. The court also held that the district court erred when it dismissed claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) with prejudice. Accordingly, the court vacated in part, affirmed the dismissal in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions to dismiss without prejudice. View "Mitchell v. Bailey" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court remanded this termination of parental rights case to the trial court, holding that while the trial court correctly applied North Carolina law in terminating Mother's parental rights, the case should be remanded for further proceedings intended to ensure compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. 1901-1963.The trial court found that Mother's parental rights were subject to termination under N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-1111(a)(1) and (2) and that termination of Mother's parental rights would be in the child's best interests. The Supreme Court remanded the case, holding (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by failing to conduct an inquiry into the issue of whether a guardian ad litem should have been appointed for Mother; (2) the trial court did not err in determining that Mother's parental rights were subject to termination for neglect and that termination of Mother's parental rights was in the child's best interests; and (3) this case should be remanded for further proceedings concerning whether the notice of ICWA were complied with and whether the child was an Indian child for purposes of ICWA. View "In re N.K." on Justia Law

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At issue in these two appeals is whether the juvenile court and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services complied with their duties of inquiry and notice under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) and related California law.The Court of Appeal agreed that the Department failed to adequately investigate mother's claim of Indian ancestry and the juvenile court failed to ensure an appropriate inquiry had been conducted before concluding, if it ever actually did, ICWA did not apply to these proceedings. Therefore, the court disagreed with the holding In re Austin J. (2020) 47 Cal.App.5th 870, 888-889, that amendments enacted by Assembly Bill No. 3176 were intended to limit the Department's robust duty of inquiry. The court conditionally reversed the orders for legal guardianship and remanded the matters to allow the Department and the juvenile court to rectify their errors and to take all other necessary corrective actions. View "In re T.G." on Justia Law

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After the Fishery received two citations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), the OSHA Commission dismissed them. The citation stemmed from an incident where a Fishery boat capsized on the reservation in Lower Red Lake and two employees drowned.The Eighth Circuit denied the petition for review, holding that EEOC v. Fond du Lac Heavy Equip. & Constr. Co., 986 F.2d 246, 248 (8th Cir. 1993), was controlling here. The court concluded that OSHA was inapplicable to the Tribe because enforcement of the Act would dilute the principles of tribal sovereignty and self-government recognized in the applicable treaty which gave the Tribe fishing rights in the reservation. Even if OSHA applied to Indian activities in other circumstances, OSHA does not apply to an enterprise owned by and consisting solely of members of perhaps the most insular and independent sovereign tribe. View "Scalia v. Red Lake Nation Fisheries, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York's motion for judgment on the pleadings for its claims asserting a tribal right to possession of land under the Indian Commerce Clause (ICC), federal treaties and statutes, and federal common law. This action arose from a disputed tract of 19.6 acres of land in the Town of Vernon in Oneida County, New York, over which both the Nation and defendant assert ownership.The court granted the district court's decision and order granting the Nation's motion to dismiss defendant's counterclaim. The court held that: (1) the district court correctly granted the Nation's motion for judgment on the pleadings because title was not properly transferred to defendant, and defendant's defenses do not raise any issues of material fact that would preclude the requested declaratory and injunctive relief sought by the Nation; and (2) the district court did not err by declining to apply an immovable property exception to tribal sovereign immunity in dismissing defendant's counterclaim. View "Oneida Indian Nation v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jessica Clark pleaded guilty to one count of child neglect in Indian Country. At sentencing, the district court concluded there were no sufficiently analogous Guidelines provision that applied to Clark's conviction, and consequently, it had to sentence her without reference to a specific Guidelines provision or advisory sentencing range. Clark received an 84-month term of imprisonment, to be followed by a five-year term of supervised release. Clark appealed, arguing the district court erred: (1) by not finding U.S.S.G. 2A2.3, the Sentencing Guidelines provision applicable to “Assault” offenses, was sufficiently analogous to her offense of conviction and therefore should have, pursuant to U.S.S.G. 2X5.1, been applied by the district court to determine both an offense level and in turn an advisory Guidelines sentencing range; and (2) the district court plainly erred by failing to adequately explain the reasons for the sentence it imposed. The Tenth Circuit rejected Clark's first argument, but agreed with the second: there was no sufficiently analogous Guidelines provision, but an explanation of the reasons for the sentence ultimately imposed was warranted. View "United States v. Clark" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Merle Denezpi, a Navajo tribal member, was arrested by Ute Mountain Ute tribal authorities and charged with violating the Tribe’s assault and battery laws, as well as two provisions of the Code of Federal Regulations on terroristic threats and false imprisonment. He subsequently entered an "Alford" plea to the assault and battery charge and was released from custody for time served. Six months later, Denezpi was indicted in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado for aggravated sexual assault. The court denied Denezpi’s motion to dismiss the indictment on double jeopardy grounds. At trial, the victim testified Denezpi had previously been incarcerated and implied that he had abused his ex-girlfriend. The court denied Denezpi’s motion to strike that testimony. The jury convicted him and he was sentenced to 360 months’ imprisonment. He appealed the denial of his motions to dismiss and to strike the victim’s testimony at trial. The Tenth Circuit affirmed as to both issues. The Court found that "the ''ultimate source' of the power undergirding' the CFR prosecution of Mr. Denezpi is the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s inherent sovereignty. Therefore, the subsequent prosecution of Mr. Denezpi in the federal district court did not violate the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against Double Jeopardy." With respect to the victim's testimony, the Tenth Circuit concluded the testimony's admission was harmless: "the evidence against Mr. Denezpi is overwhelming. The SANE examination of [the victim]. revealed substantial injuries to her body, including bruising on her breasts, back, arms, and legs as well as injuries to her genitals. Mr. Denezpi’s DNA was found on [the victim's] genitalia. The SANE nurse testified at trial that [the victim's] injuries were 'consistent with a nonconsensual sexual assault.'" Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "United States v. Denezpi" on Justia Law