Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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After the Indian Health Service agreed to pay the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community to run a health program on the Swinomish Reservation, Swinomish filed suit under the Contract Disputes Act and Declaratory Judgment Act, claiming that it was owed additional sums in direct and indirect contract support for costs calculated as percentages of the money it received from insurers and spent on health services. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the government's motion for summary judgment, holding that the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act does not require Indian Health Service to pay for contract support costs on insurance money received by Swinomish. Neither does Swinomish's contract with Indian Health Service. View "Swinomish Indian Tribal Community v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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In this case, the en banc court considered the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. 1901 et seq., and the validity of implementing regulations promulgated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in its 2016 Final Rule (Final Rule). The district court granted plaintiffs summary judgment in part, declaring that the ICWA and the Final Rule contravene multiple constitutional provisions and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). After defendants appealed, a panel of this court reversed and rendered judgment for defendants. The en banc court then reconsidered the case.The en banc court unanimously held that at least one plaintiff has standing to challenge Congress's authority under Article I of the Constitution to enact ICWA and to press anticommandeering and nondelegation challenges to specific ICWA provisions, and that plaintiffs have standing to challenge the Final Rule as unlawful under the APA. The en banc court is equally divided as to whether plaintiffs have standing to challenge two provisions of ICWA, 25 U.S.C. 1913 and 1914, on equal protection grounds, and the district court's conclusion that plaintiffs can assert this claim is therefore affirmed without a precedential opinion. An en banc majority also held that plaintiffs have standing to assert their equal protection challenges to other provisions of ICWA.On the merits, the en banc majority agrees that, as a general proposition, Congress had the authority to enact ICWA under Article I of the Constitution, and that the ICWA's "Indian child" classification does not violate equal protection. The en banc court is equally divided, however, as to whether plaintiffs prevail on their equal protection challenge to ICWA's adoptive placement preference for "other Indian families," and its foster care placement preference for a licensed "Indian foster home." An en banc majority held that ICWA's "active efforts," section 1912(d), expert witness, section 1912(e) and (f), and recordkeeping requirements, section 1915(e), unconstitutionally commandeer state actors. However, the en banc court is equally divided on whether the placement preferences, section 1915(a)–(b), violate anticommandeering to the extent they direct action by state agencies and officials; on whether the notice provision, section 1912(a), unconstitutionally commandeers state agencies; and on whether the placement record provision, section 1951(a), unconstitutionally commandeers state courts.Furthermore, an en banc majority held that several challenged ICWA provisions validly preempt state law and so do not commandeer states, and that section 1915(c) does not violate the non-delegation doctrine. Finally, an en banc majority held that the BIA did not violate the APA by concluding in the Final Rule that it may issue regulations binding on state courts. However, an en banc majority also held that the Final Rule violated the APA to the extent it implemented these unconstitutional provisions and that 25 C.F.R. 23.132(b) violated the APA. An en banc majority held that the Final Rule did not violate the APA in any other respect. Accordingly, the en banc court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and rendered judgment accordingly. View "Brackeen v. Haaland" on Justia Law

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The Alaska Office of Children’s Services (OCS) took custody of three Indian children after reports of substance abuse and domestic violence in their mother’s home. For two years OCS was unable to contact the children’s father, who also struggled with substance abuse issues. Once OCS did contact the father, both he and the mother consented to temporarily place the children with a guardian. OCS then reduced its efforts to reunify the children with their father. Then the children’s mother died. The father was incarcerated for several months; he completed classes and substance abuse treatment. After he was released, he maintained his sobriety and began limited contact with OCS and with his children. Approximately four years after taking custody of the children, OCS moved to terminate the father’s parental rights. After the superior court terminated his rights, the father appealed, arguing OCS failed to make active efforts to reunify him with his children as required by ICWA. To this the Alaska Supreme Court concurred, and reversed the termination of his parental rights. View "C.J. (Father) v. Alaska, DHSS, OCS" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court dismissing Appellant's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that the superior court did not err in determining that Appellant's dispute with Regina Petit and the Passamaquoddy Tribe was an "internal tribal matter."After Appellant contacted the Chief of Police for the Passamaquoddy Tribe and caused Appellant to be served with a no-trespass notice, Appellant filed a complaint against Petit and the Tribe. The superior court granted Petit and the Tribe's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that the dispute involved an "internal tribal matter." The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the most appropriate forum for this case was the tribal court. View "Moyant v. Petit" on Justia Law

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Ranchers in the Upper Klamath Basin region filed suit to prevent the exercise of water rights that interfere with the irrigation of their lands. The district court dismissed the complaint based on lack of standing under Article III of the Constitution.The DC Circuit affirmed the dismissal and concluded that the Protocol Agreement executed by the United States and the Tribes does not delegate federal authority to the Tribes but recognizes the Tribes' preexisting authority to control their water rights under a Treaty in 1864 with the United States. The court explained that there is no concurrence requirement imposed by federal law on the Tribes' reserved instream water rights, whether by the 1864 Klamath Treaty or the federal government’s trust relationship; the McCarran Amendment subjects the Tribes' reserved water rights to state procedural rules in its quantification proceedings, but the substance and scope of the Tribes’ rights remain governed by federal law; Oregon law does not require federal government concurrence to enforce the Tribes' water rights; and thus invalidating the Protocol, and requiring the federal government to independently assess whether it would concur in the Tribes' calls, would not remedy the Ranchers' injuries. Because the Ranchers fail to show their alleged injuries are fairly traceable to federal government action or inaction, or would be redressed by striking the Protocol, they lack Article III standing. View "Hawkins v. Haaland" on Justia Law

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After taxpayers filed suit challenging the IRS's deficiency findings and penalties, the tax court sustained the deficiency determinations but rejected the accuracy-related penalties. In this case, the Miccosukee Tribe shared profits from its casino with Tribe members and encouraged its members to hide their payments from the IRS. The taxpayers here followed the Tribe's advice, and they are now subject to hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax deficiencies.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the tax court's judgment and rejected taxpayers' assertion that any taxes are barred by the Miccosukee Settlement Act that exempted an earlier land transfer from taxation. Even if the court interpreted the Act as providing an indefinite tax exemption for the "lands" conveyed under it or the agreement, the casino revenues still do not fit the bill because the casino's land was not conveyed under either the Act or the agreement. Furthermore, an exemption for "lands" only exempts income "derived directly" from those lands, and this court has already held that casino revenues do "not derive directly from the land." The court also rejected taxpayers' assertion that the payments are merely nontaxable lease payments from the casino, citing factual and legal problems. Rather, the court concluded that the payments are taxable income. View "Clay v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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The State of Alaska claimed the right under Revised Statute 2477 (RS 2477) to clear land and permit the use of boat launches, camping sites, and day use sites within an alleged 100-foot right of way centered on a road on land belonging to an Alaska Native corporation, Ahtna, Inc. Ahtna sued, arguing that its prior aboriginal title prevented the federal government from conveying a right of way to the State or, alternatively, if the right of way existed, that construction of boat launches, camping sites, and day use sites exceeded its scope. After years of litigation and motion practice the superior court issued two partial summary judgment orders: (1) holding as a matter of law that any preexisting aboriginal title did not disturb the State’s right of way over the land; and (2) holding as a matter of law that the right of way was limited to ingress and egress. To these orders, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err, therefore affirming both grants of partial summary judgment. View "Ahtna, Inc. v. Alaska, Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the termination of Mother's parental rights to her child, holding that the district court did not err in terminating Mother's parental rights under state and federal law.In terminating Mother's parental rights to her child the district court made the additional findings and used the heightened evidentiary standards required by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err (1) in failing to make specific findings under the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act when terminating Mother's parental rights; (2) when it terminated Mother's parental rights under Mont. Code Ann. 41-3-609 and 25 U.S.C. 1912; and (3) in terminating Mother's rights under federal and state law. View "Matter of K.L.N." on Justia Law

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Swiger accepted a $1200 loan from online lender Plain Green, an entity owned by and organized under the laws of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation, Montana. She describes Rees as the “mastermind” behind a "rent-a-tribe" scheme, alleging that he and his company used Plain Green's tribal sovereign immunity as a front to shield them from state and federal law. When Swiger signed the loan contract, she affirmed that Plain Green enjoys “immun[ity] from suit in any court,” and that the loan “shall be governed by the laws of the tribe,” not the laws of any state. She agreed to binding arbitration under tribal law, subject to review only in tribal court. The provision covers “any issue concerning the validity, enforceability, or scope of this Agreement or this Agreement to Arbitrate.” Seven months after accepting the loan, Swiger alleged that she repaid $1170.54 but still owed $1922.37.Swiger sued, citing Michigan and federal law, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and consumer protection laws. The district court concluded that the enforceability of the arbitration agreement “has already been litigated, and decided against Rees, in a similar case commenced in Vermont.” The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to stay the case pending arbitration. Swiger’s arbitration agreement includes an unchallenged provision delegating the question of arbitrability to an arbitrator. The district court exceeded its authority when it found the agreement unenforceable View "Swiger v. Rosette" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment confirming an arbitration award in favor of the State of New York. The court held that the arbitral panel – which did in fact consider the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) – reasonably concluded that its task in this case was a straightforward matter of contract interpretation not subject to the Secretary of the Interior's approval. The court explained that the panel did not disregard the IGRA, and deferral to the Department of the Interior was not warranted. Therefore, the arbitral panel did not manifestly disregard governing law, and the district court properly confirmed the award. View "Seneca Nation of Indians v. State of New York" on Justia Law