Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

by
The Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation (“Sycuan” or “Tribe”), a federally recognized Indian tribe, sought the reversal of the district court’s order granting labor union, Unite Here Local 30’s (“Unite Here”), motion for judgment on the pleadings with respect to its own complaint and motion to dismiss Sycuan’s counterclaim. Unite Here alleged that Sycuan violated the labor provisions of a contract between the two parties respecting the operation of a casino. The union brought suit to compel arbitration of that dispute pursuant to a clause contained in the contract. Sycuan opposed arbitration.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment on the pleadings in favor of Unite Here and the district court’s dismissal of a counterclaim brought by Sycuan. The court held the district court had original jurisdiction over Unite Here’s claims. Further, the court held that the district court had supplemental, but not original, jurisdiction over Sycuan’s counterclaim because the Declaratory Judgment Act does not confer jurisdiction, and Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act could not confer federal question jurisdiction.   The court concluded that the arbitrator should decide issues of contract validity, and the counterclaim rested on an issue of contract validity. Accordingly, the district court’s declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction served economy, convenience, and fairness. The court also held that Unite Here and Sycuan formed an agreement to arbitrate because Sycuan promised California that if any union made certain promises to the tribe, Sycuan would automatically enter into a bilateral contract with that union adopting the TLRO’s terms. View "UNITE HERE LOCAL 30 V. SYCUAN BAND" on Justia Law

by
The First Circuit reversed the bankruptcy court's dismissal of Debtor's motion to enforce an automatic stay as to a subsidiary of the Lac Du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, holding that the Bankruptcy Code unequivocally strips tribes of their immunity,Debtor sought to enforce the Bankruptcy Code's automatic stay against one of his creditors, a subsidiary of the Lac Du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians (Band). Debtor sought an order prohibiting further collection efforts as well as damages and attorney fees. The Band and its affiliates moved to dismiss the enforcement proceeding, asserting tribal sovereign immunity. The bankruptcy court agreed and granted the motion to dismiss. The First Circuit reversed the decision of the bankruptcy court dismissing Debtor's motion to enforce the automatic stay, holding that tribes are governmental units and, thus, the Bankruptcy Code abrogates tribal sovereign immunity. View "Coughlin v. Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians" on Justia Law

by
Lisa Poitra appealed an order of eviction, arguing the district court lacked jurisdiction to enter the eviction order because the Trenton Indian Housing Authority (“TIHA”) constituted a dependent Indian community, and a contract provision required the eviction to be handled by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians Tribal Court. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the record supported the district court’s finding that TIHA was not a dependent Indian community, the court’s determination that it had subject matter jurisdiction, and the finding TIHA did not have a contractual obligation to bring the eviction action in the tribal court. View "Trenton Indian Housing Authority v. Poitra, et al." on Justia Law

by
This case arose from a long-running irrigation-water dispute between Plaintiff Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation and Defendant Gregory McKee, who was not a member of the Tribe. Defendant owned non-Indian fee land within the Ute reservation’s exterior boundaries and used water from two irrigation canals flowing through his property. Plaintiff claimed the water belonged to the United States in trust for the Tribe. Plaintiff sued Defendant in the Ute tribal court, alleging that Defendant had been diverting the Tribe’s water for years, and won. Plaintiff then petitioned the district court to recognize and enforce the tribal-court judgment. But the district court dismissed the case after holding that the tribal court lacked jurisdiction to enter its judgment. Because the Tenth Circuit also concluded the tribal court lacked jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s dispute with a nonmember of the Tribe arising on non-Indian fee lands, it affirmed. View "Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah v. McKee, et al." on Justia Law

by
The Indian Health Service (IHS), operates direct healthcare facilities and funds Contract Health Services (CHS) programs for persons of American Indian descent, 25 U.S.C. 1603(5), (12). Under 25 U.S.C. 5301, tribes may manage and staff their own IHS facilities, contract with private insurers for tribal coverage, and operate their own CHS programs. IHS health programs are “the payer of last resort.” Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance must pay before IHS reimbursement is available. The 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement Act authorized HHS to demand Medicare pricing from hospitals providing services to tribes through CHS programs, 42 U.S.C. 1395cc. The Tribe, which administers a CHS program, contracted with BCBSM for healthcare coverage. The Sixth Circuit previously reversed the dismissal of the Tribe’s lawsuit based on BCBSM’s alleged failure to insist on “Medicare-like rates” for care authorized by the Tribe’s CHS program and provided by Medicare-participating hospitals. On remand, the district court granted BCBSM summary judgment, concluding that the Tribe’s payments for CHS care through BCBSM's plans were not eligible for Medicare-like rates. The district court interpreted federal regulations as limiting the requirement of Medicare-like rates to payments for care that was authorized by CHS, provided by Medicare-participating hospitals, and directly paid for with CHS funds. The Sixth Circuit reversed. On remand, the district court must first address whether the Tribe’s CHS program authorized the care for which they assert they were entitled to Medicare-like rates. If the CHS program authorized this care, the court should then consider BCBSM’s alternative arguments. View "Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan" on Justia Law

by
M.G. (Mother) appealed the termination of her parental rights to her 11-year-old daughter, A.R., and her 10-year-old son, C.R., and placing them in a permanent plan of adoption by their paternal grandparents. M.G. did not challenge the merits of the order; instead, she argued it had to be reversed because the Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA) failed to conduct an inquiry into whether the children had Native American ancestry, as required by the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Court of Appeal found an ICWA inquiry should be conducted in every case. "The tribes have a compelling, legally protected interest in the inquiry itself. It is only by ensuring that the issue of Native American ancestry is addressed in every case that we can ensure the collective interests of the Native American tribes will be protected. Thus, the failure to conduct the inquiry in each case constitutes a miscarriage of justice." In the interest of limiting any further delay, the Court conditionally reversed and remanded the case with instructions that SSA conduct the inquiry immediately, and that the trial court likewise resolve the issue as soon as possible. If the initial inquiry revealed no Native American heritage, then the judgment would be reinstated forthwith. View "In re A.R." on Justia Law

by
Mother appealed the juvenile court’s jurisdiction and disposition orders pertaining to her children, citing the court’s findings that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA; 25 U.S.C. 1901) did not apply to the dependency proceedings. She argued that evidence of her children’s Native American ancestry triggered the duty under state law (Welfare and Institutions Code section 224.2(e)) to further investigate whether her children come within the federal Act.The court of appeal vacated and remanded. The Department of Family and Children’s Services failed to comply with the statutory duty to further investigate whether the children are Indian children; the juvenile court’s negative ICWA findings were based on insufficient evidence. The social worker’s initial inquiry established a reason to believe the children are Indian children; both the mother and the maternal grandfather stated that “a maternal great grandfather may have Native American ancestry in Minnesota.” The court rejected an argument that further inquiry would be futile, and specifically that contacting the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the State Department of Social Services would be an idle act. View "In re I.F." on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's dismissal based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction of plaintiff's complaint against the Tribe and various individual defendants. Plaintiff alleged that the Tribe, its officers, and members improperly ordered his banishment based on his purported attempt to import alcohol into the City of Togiak, Alaska, and that, in the course of enforcing the banishment order, defendants detained plaintiff in the municipal jail and forced him to board an airplane destined for another city in Alaska.The panel affirmed in part and held that tribal sovereign immunity deprived the district court of subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims alleged exclusively against the Tribe. Furthermore, the panel affirmed the district court's order dismissing claims against the tribal judicial officers on immunity grounds. However, the panel reversed in part and remanded for the district court to fully consider plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims as to individual defendants in their individual capacities; whether plaintiff is entitled to prospective injunctive relief against individual defendants; and plaintiff's individual tort claims against the individual defendants. Finally, the panel directed the district court to consider whether plaintiff should be granted leave to amend to cure any pleading deficiencies related to his claims. View "Oertwich v. Traditional Village of Togiak" on Justia Law

by
The sole issue in this appeal of the termination of parental rights was whether San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS) conducted further inquiry into whether the Indian Child Welfare Act’s (ICWA) applied if there was “reason to believe” an Indian child was involved in the dependency proceedings involving nine-year-old K.T. and his two-year-old sister, D. Early on in the case, the children’s mother and K.T.’s father (father) reported they had possible Cherokee, Choctaw, and Blackfeet ancestry and gave CFS contact information for family members who might be able to provide more detail. CFS never followed up, and the juvenile court found ICWA didn’t apply without first ensuring CFS had pursued these leads. About two years into the proceedings, after the parents failed to reunify with the children, the court determined they were likely to be adopted and terminated parental rights. On appeal, mother and father argued that despite having reason to believe K.T. and D. were Indian children, CFS failed to conduct adequate further inquiry to determine whether ICWA applies. CFS conceded their error. As a result, the record did not support the juvenile court’s finding that ICWA did not apply, and the Court of Appeal reversed the orders terminating parental rights and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "In re K.T." on Justia Law

by
The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation (“the Tribe”) temporarily banished Angelita Chegup, Tara Amboh, Mary Jenkins, and Lynda Kozlowicz (“the banished members”). The banished members did not challenge their temporary banishment in a tribal forum, but instead sought relief in federal court by filing a petition for habeas corpus. The banished members contended that, because they were excluded from the reservation by virtue of their banishment, they were “detained” within the meaning of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 (“ICRA”). The district court disagreed and dismissed the suit without considering the Tribe’s alternative position: that the court could not consider the claims at all because the banished members failed to exhaust their tribal remedies. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concurred with the district court: "Even though tribal exhaustion is non-jurisdictional, and courts may often choose between threshold grounds for denying relief, we think that under the unique circumstances of this case there was a right choice." Because the district court neither began its analysis with tribal exhaustion nor reached that issue in the alternative, the Tenth Circuit remanded for it to be decided in the first instance. View "Chegup, et al. v. Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah, et al." on Justia Law