Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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Frank Bibeau, a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, argued that his self-employment income from his law practice on the Leech Lake Reservation was exempt from federal taxation. For the 2016 and 2017 tax years, Bibeau reported his income on a joint federal income tax return with his wife, claiming a net operating loss carryforward that shielded his income from taxes but not from self-employment taxes. After receiving a notice from the IRS regarding his tax debts, Bibeau requested a Collection Due Process (CDP) hearing, arguing his income was exempt. The IRS disagreed and issued a notice of determination to collect the tax.Bibeau petitioned the United States Tax Court, asserting that Indians are generally exempt from federal taxes or that treaties between the U.S. and the Chippewa exempted his income. The Tax Court ruled against him, stating that Indians are subject to federal tax laws unless a specific law or treaty provides otherwise. The court found that neither the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 nor the 1837 Treaty between the U.S. and the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe contained a specific exemption from federal taxation.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed the case de novo. The court held that as U.S. citizens, Indians are subject to federal tax requirements unless specifically exempted by a treaty or act of Congress. The court found that Bibeau failed to point to any statute or treaty that specifically exempted his self-employment income from taxation. The court also noted that the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 and the 1837 Treaty did not provide such an exemption. Consequently, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the Tax Court’s decision, holding that Bibeau’s self-employment income is subject to federal self-employment taxes. View "Bibeau v. CIR" on Justia Law

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Colton Bagola was convicted of first-degree murder and discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence after shooting Sloane Bull Bear in the back of the head at a gathering in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Witnesses testified that Bagola shot Bull Bear from approximately one inch away. Following the incident, Bagola and others fled the scene, and Bull Bear's body was found in the exterior doorway. Bagola was indicted on multiple charges, including first-degree murder and tampering with evidence. The district court severed the conspiracy count and granted a motion for acquittal on the tampering charge. The jury convicted Bagola of first-degree murder and discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.The United States District Court for the District of South Dakota handled the initial trial. After the jury's guilty verdict, Bagola filed a motion for judgment of acquittal, which the district court denied. Bagola then appealed his conviction, raising several challenges, including the admission of expert testimony, the adequacy of jury instructions regarding his "Indian" status, the sufficiency of evidence for premeditated first-degree murder, and whether premeditated first-degree murder qualifies as a crime of violence.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed the case. The court found that any error in admitting expert testimony was harmless due to the overwhelming evidence against Bagola. The court also determined that the district court's failure to properly instruct the jury on the "Indian" status element did not affect Bagola's substantial rights, given the uncontroverted evidence of his tribal membership. Additionally, the court held that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's finding of premeditation. Finally, the court ruled that premeditated first-degree murder is categorically a "crime of violence" under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). The Eighth Circuit affirmed Bagola's convictions. View "United States v. Bagola" on Justia Law

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The case involves the San Carlos Apache Tribe's challenge to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality's (ADEQ) issuance of a 2017 Permit Renewal to Resolution Copper Mining, LLC (Resolution) for the discharge of water from a copper mine. The Tribe argued that the construction of a new mine shaft (Shaft 10) and other new features at the mine constituted a "new source" under the Clean Water Act (CWA), which would subject the mine to more stringent regulations.Previously, an administrative law judge (ALJ) had determined that ADEQ should have analyzed whether Shaft 10 and the other new features were a "new source" under the CWA before issuing the permit. The Arizona Water Quality Appeals Board remanded the matter to ADEQ, which concluded that Shaft 10 and the new features were "existing sources" under the CWA. The Board affirmed ADEQ's issuance of the 2017 Permit Renewal. The Tribe appealed to the superior court, which affirmed the Board's decision. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Shaft 10 was a "new source" under the CWA.The Supreme Court of the State of Arizona disagreed with the court of appeals. The court applied a three-step test to determine whether a construction is a "new source" under the CWA. The court found that Shaft 10 was not a "new source" under the CWA because it was integrated with existing infrastructure at the mine and engaged in the same general type of activity as the existing source. The court also found that Shaft 10 did not have a new source performance standard "independently applicable" to it. Therefore, the court concluded that ADEQ acted within its discretion by issuing the 2017 Permit Renewal to Resolution. The court vacated the court of appeals' decision and affirmed the superior court's decision. View "SAN CARLOS APACHE TRIBE v STATE" on Justia Law

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The case involves Leatrice Tanner-Brown, a descendant of people enslaved by the Cherokee Tribe and emancipated at the end of the Civil War. Her grandfather, George Curls, received land allotments as a minor. Tanner-Brown and the Harvest Institute Freedman Federation, LLC (HIFF) brought suit seeking various remedies related to the allotments, including an accounting from the Secretary of the Interior arising from the alleged creation of a trust relationship between the federal government and Indian beneficiaries.The district court dismissed the case for lack of standing, finding that Tanner-Brown failed to establish that she was injured by not receiving an accounting on the ground that there was no trust relationship between Curls and the federal government and that HIFF failed to satisfy the requirements for associational standing.The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court's decision in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court found that although HIFF cannot sustain standing, Tanner-Brown has alleged a concrete injury-in-fact sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The court also found that the case raises factual questions that cannot be resolved at this juncture and remanded for the district court to consider the merits of Tanner-Brown’s allegations and the relevant record documents in the first instance. View "Tanner-Brown v. Haaland" on Justia Law

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The Chemehuevi Indian Tribe filed a complaint against the United States, alleging mismanagement of funds and breach of trust. The Tribe sought an accounting and damages for the alleged mismanagement of the Parker Dam compensation funds, the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) Judgment funds, and the suspense accounts. The Tribe also claimed that the U.S. government's failure to approve a proposed lease of its water rights constituted a Fifth Amendment taking and a breach of trust.The United States Court of Federal Claims dismissed the Tribe's complaint, ruling that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. The court found that the Tribe was essentially seeking an accounting to discover potential claims against the government, rather than asserting a right to be paid a certain sum. The court also dismissed the Tribe's claims related to the proposed water rights lease, stating that the claim was outside the six-year statute of limitations.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the Tribe's complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The appellate court agreed that the Tribe was seeking an accounting to discover potential claims, rather than asserting a right to be paid a certain sum. The court also affirmed the dismissal of the Tribe's claim related to the proposed water rights lease, agreeing that it was outside the statute of limitations. However, the appellate court vacated the lower court's dismissal of the Tribe's claim for failure to state a takings claim, stating that the Tribe's decision to lease the water off-reservation could fulfill the purpose of the reservation. View "CHEMEHUEVI INDIAN TRIBE v. US " on Justia Law

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The Choctaw Nation and several pharmacies it owns and operates entered into agreements with Caremark, LLC, and its affiliates to facilitate insurance reimbursements for the Nation’s costs for pharmacy services for its members. The Nation filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Oklahoma, alleging that Caremark unlawfully denied pharmacy reimbursement claims in violation of the Recovery Act. After the matter was stayed in the Eastern District of Oklahoma, Caremark petitioned to compel arbitration of the Nation’s claims in the District of Arizona. The district court granted the petition, concluding that the parties’ agreements included arbitration provisions with delegation clauses and therefore an arbitrator must decide the Nation’s arguments that its claims are not arbitrable.The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision. The court held that most of the Nation’s arguments challenging the district court’s arbitration order were foreclosed by a previous case, Caremark, LLC v. Chickasaw Nation, which addressed the enforceability of identical arbitration provisions. The court also held that the Nation’s remaining argument that the District of Arizona lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the petition to compel arbitration failed because the Nation contractually agreed to arbitrate its claims against Caremark in Arizona, and in those contracts specifically “agree[d] to such jurisdiction.” Thus, the Nation expressly waived its tribal sovereign immunity as a bar to arbitration in the District of Arizona. View "CAREMARK, LLC V. CHOCTAW NATION" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a mobile home fire that resulted in two deaths. The government accused Mr. Joseph Allen Hernandez of intentionally setting the fire, supported by expert testimony from a fire investigator. Mr. Hernandez claimed that he had accidentally started the fire. The trial resulted in convictions on two counts of second-degree murder in Indian Country and one count of arson in Indian Country.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma had allowed the fire investigator to give expert testimony, despite objections from the defense. The court also permitted the investigator to testify that he did not believe Mr. Hernandez's explanation of the fire's cause.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit considered whether the district court had erred in allowing the fire investigator's expert testimony and whether the investigator's disbelief of Mr. Hernandez's explanation had intruded on a reasonable expectation of privacy. The appellate court found no error in the district court's decisions. The court held that the district court had not abused its discretion in allowing the fire investigator's expert testimony. It also found that the investigator's disbelief of Mr. Hernandez's explanation did not intrude on a reasonable expectation of privacy. The court affirmed the district court's rulings and Mr. Hernandez's convictions. View "United States v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

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The case involves the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA), which allows an Indian tribe to enter into a "self-determination contract" with the Indian Health Service (IHS) to administer healthcare programs that IHS would otherwise operate for the tribe. The San Carlos Apache Tribe and the Northern Arapaho Tribe sued the Government for breach of contract, arguing that although they used the Secretarial amount and program income to operate the healthcare programs they assumed from IHS under their self-determination contracts, IHS failed to pay the contract support costs they incurred by providing healthcare services using program income. The Ninth and Tenth Circuits concluded that each Tribe was entitled to reimbursement for such costs.The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the decisions of the Ninth and Tenth Circuits. The Court held that ISDA requires IHS to pay the contract support costs that a tribe incurs when it collects and spends program income to further the functions, services, activities, and programs transferred to it from IHS in a self-determination contract. The Court reasoned that the Tribe's self-determination contract incorporated ISDA, which required the Tribe to spend third-party program income on healthcare. Those portions of the Tribe’s healthcare programs funded by third-party income thus constituted “activities which must be carried on by [the Tribe] as a contractor to ensure compliance with the terms of the contract,” and the contract support costs associated with those activities were incurred “in connection with the operation of the Federal program.” The Court concluded that the text of ISDA, therefore, indicated that IHS was required to reimburse the Tribe for those costs. View "Becerra v. San Carlos Apache Tribe" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute between Lori Lundeen, a property developer, and Lake County, Montana. Lundeen planned to develop a 60-lot subdivision, Wild Horse RV Resort, on her property in Lake County. She intended to use roads through the Big Arm townsite for access to her development. The Board of Lake County Commissioners granted conditional approval for the development. However, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes contested the County’s ownership, regulatory authority, and right to use the access routes. Lundeen alleges that she relied on Lake County and the Lake County Attorney to research her access issue. After an eight-month moratorium on Lundeen’s development application, the Board conditionally approved an amended road layout for the development. Lundeen claims the Lake County Attorney represented to her that the Tribes’ claim was baseless and that she could proceed with the development.The District Court of the Twentieth Judicial District, Lake County, granted Lake County’s motion to dismiss Lundeen's lawsuit for failure to state a claim. The court reasoned that Lundeen was on inquiry notice of the negligent misrepresentation when she became aware the Tribes had blocked off her property. The court also determined the discovery and accrual rules for the statute of limitations were satisfied no later than when the Tribes blocked Lundeen’s access. Based on the applicable three-year statute of limitations, the court found Lundeen’s claims filed were time-barred.The Supreme Court of the State of Montana reversed the lower court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Supreme Court found that Lundeen had sufficiently asserted facts that, if accepted as true and viewed in the light most favorable to her, establish a basis for the claims asserted in her complaint. Therefore, the court concluded that the District Court erred by granting Lake County’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. View "Lundeen v. Lake County" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over the jurisdiction of personal injury claims arising from incidents at tribal gaming facilities. The plaintiffs, Jeremiah Sipp and Hella Rader, filed a complaint against Buffalo Thunder, Inc., Buffalo Thunder Development Authority, the Pueblo of Pojoaque, the Pueblo of Pojoaque Gaming Commission, and Pojoaque Gaming, Inc. (collectively referred to as Petitioners), alleging that Sipp was injured due to the negligence of the casino's employees. The complaint was initially dismissed by the district court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, but this decision was reversed by the Court of Appeals.The district court had granted the Petitioners' motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that the plaintiffs' claims did not fall within Section 8(A) of the Tribal-State Class III Gaming Compact (the Compact), which provides for state court jurisdiction over certain claims unless it is finally determined by a state or federal court that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) does not permit the shifting of jurisdiction over visitors’ personal injury suits to state court. The Court of Appeals, however, held that the plaintiffs' claims did fall under Section 8(A) and that neither of the two federal cases cited by the Petitioners, Pueblo of Santa Ana v. Nash and Navajo Nation v. Dalley, had triggered the termination clause in Section 8(A) of the Compact.The Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals, holding that the jurisdiction shifting under Section 8(A) of the Compact was terminated by Nash. The court reasoned that the plain language of the termination clause in Section 8(A) was clear and unambiguous, and that the federal district court's final determination in Nash that IGRA does not permit such a jurisdictional shifting constituted the qualifying event that terminates the Tribe’s duty to provide its “limited waiver of . . . immunity from suit.” Therefore, the court concluded that state courts do not possess subject matter jurisdiction to hear the plaintiffs' underlying claim. View "Sipp v. Buffalo Thunder" on Justia Law