Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York and the district court's permanent injunction enjoining the County from foreclosing on the Cayuga Indian Nation's real property for nonpayment of taxes. The court agreed with the district court that tribal sovereign immunity from suit bars the County from pursuing tax enforcement actions under Article 11 of the New York Real Property Tax Law against the Cayuga Indian Nation. The court explained that the County's foreclosure proceedings are not permitted by the traditional common law exception to sovereign immunity that covers certain actions related to immovable property. In this case, the foreclosure actions fall outside the purview of the common law version of the immovable-property exception. The court also rejected the County's reading of City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York, 544 U.S. 197 (2005), as abrogating a tribe's immunity from suit. View "Cayuga Indian Nation of New York v. Seneca County" on Justia Law

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In late August 2020, Yazzie initiated an action challenging Arizona's Receipt Deadline pursuant to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution, and the Arizona Constitution's election clause. The complaint alleges that Navajo Nation reservation residents face myriad challenges to voting by mail where many on-reservation members do not have home mail service. Rather, to receive or send mail, they must travel to a post office. Furthermore, socioeconomic factors, educational disadvantages, and language barriers make both the travel to the post office—which requires access to a car—and the completion of mail ballots difficult. Yazzie also claims that these mail ballots take disproportionately longer to reach the county recorder's office because of the slower mail service on the reservation. In late September 2020, the district court denied Yazzie's motion for preliminary injunction based on its finding that Yazzie did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits or raise serious questions going to the merits of Yazzie's VRA claim.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Yazzie's request for a preliminary injunction. The panel did not address the district court's analysis of the VRA claim because it concluded that Yazzie and the other plaintiffs lack standing. The panel stated that not only does Yazzie fail to make a clear showing of a concrete and particularized injury, noticeably absent in the record is any particularized allegation with respect to any of the six individual plaintiffs. The panel also stated that, importantly, this case is not a putative class action filed on behalf of the Navajo Nation members who reside on the reservation. In this case, Yazzie failed to establish injury-in-fact for at least one of the individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The panel concluded that also missing is a clear showing that the alleged injury is redressable by a favorable decision by this court. View "Yazzie v. Hobbs" on Justia Law

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C.V. (Mother) appealed an order issued under Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.261 selecting adoption as the permanent plan for her son N.S. and terminating her parental rights. N.S.’s father was a member of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians (the Tribe). The Tribe was involved in this case since the juvenile court found that N.S. was an Indian child and that the Indian Child Welfare Act (25 U.S.C. 1901 et seq.) (ICWA) applied. On appeal, Mother contended: (1) the Tribe’s “decree” selecting guardianship as the best permanent plan option for N.S. preempted the statutory preference for adoption under section 366.26; (2) N.S.’s counsel breached his duties under section 317 and provided ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to discover what Tribal benefits or membership rights were available to N.S. before the termination of parental rights; (3) the court erred in finding that the Indian child exception of section 366.26, subdivision (c)(1)(B)(vi)(I) and (II) did not apply to preclude termination of parental rights; (4) there was insufficient evidence to support the court’s finding beyond a reasonable doubt that continued custody in Mother’s care would be a substantial risk to N.S.; and (5) the court erred in finding that the beneficial parent-child relationship exception of section 366.26, subdivision (c)(1)(B)(i) does not apply to preclude termination of parental rights. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "In re N.S." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile court's jurisdictional findings and dispositional orders, holding that substantial evidence supports the juvenile court's finding that the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) does not apply here. Mother contends that the juvenile court and DCFS failed to satisfy the formal notice requirements under the ICWA and related California law.In this case, the initial inquiry conducted by the juvenile court created a "reason to believe" the children possibly are Indian children; DCFS's repeated efforts to gather information concerning the children's maternal ancestry constitutes substantial evidence that DCFS met its duty of further inquiry; but the juvenile court and DCFS's further investigation did not yield results that pushed their reason to believe the children are Indian children, to reason to know the children are Indian children. The court explained that a suggestion of Indian ancestry is not sufficient under ICWA or related California law to trigger the notice requirement. Because DCFS was not required to provide formal notice to the pertinent tribes, the court did not reach Mother's argument that the ICWA notices may have lacked necessary information. View "In re Dominic F." on Justia Law

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The Pueblos of Jemez, Santa Ana, and Zia resided along the Jemez River at a time when their lands passed from Spanish to Mexican sovereignty, and finally to the United States. In 1983, the United States initiated a water-rights adjudication for the Jemez River Basin, claiming water rights on behalf of the Pueblos. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the Pueblos' aboriginal water rights were extinguished by the imposition of Spanish authority "without any affirmative adverse act." No matter the method used, the sovereign’s intent to extinguish must be clear and unambiguous; “an extinguishment cannot be lightly implied in view of the avowed solicitude of the Federal Government for the welfare of its Indian wards.” Moreover, “if there is doubt whether aboriginal title has been validly extinguished by the United States, any ‘doubtful expressions, instead of being resolved in favor of the United States, are to be resolved in favor of’ the Indians.” The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court, finding that while "All conquering sovereigns possess authority over their land and resources ... not until the sovereign exercises this authority through clear and adverse affirmative action may it extinguish aboriginal rights." View "United States v. Abouselman" on Justia Law

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Title V of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) makes certain funds available to the recognized governing bodies of any "Indian Tribe" as that term is defined in the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA).The DC Circuit held that Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs), state-chartered corporations established by Congress to receive land and money provided to Alaska Natives in settlement of aboriginal land claims, do not qualify as Indian Tribes under the CARES Act and ISDA. Therefore, ANCs are not eligible for funding under Title V of the CARES Act.The court stated that an ANC cannot qualify as an "Indian tribe" under ISDA unless it has been "recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians;" because no ANC has been federally "recognized" as an Indian tribe, as the recognition clause requires, no ANC satisfies the ISDA definition; although ANCs cannot be recognized as Indian tribes under current regulations, it was highly unsettled in 1975, when ISDA was enacted, whether Native villages or Native corporations would ultimately be recognized; and the Alaska clause does meaningful work by extending ISDA's definition of Indian tribes to whatever Native entities ultimately were recognized—even though, as things later turned out, no ANCs were recognized. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the government and the intervenors, as well as the district court's denial of summary judgment to the plaintiff tribes. View "Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed 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 held that SCF alleges an injury in fact sufficient to confer Article III standing 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. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Southcentral Foundation v. Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium" on Justia Law