Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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Granite Northwest sought to expand its mining operations in Yakima County, Washington. The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation (Yakama) opposed the expansion, arguing it would disturb ancient burial grounds and a dedicated historical cemetery. Despite these objections, Yakima County issued a conditional use permit and a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), ch. 43.21C RCW, mitigated determination of nonsignificance to Granite Northwest. Yakama challenged both in superior court. The court later stayed the SEPA challenge while Yakama exhausted its administrative appeal of the conditional use permit as required by the Yakima county code. In Yakama’s administrative appeal, the hearing officer modified the conditional use permit to require a separate permit from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation but affirmed Yakima County’s issuance of the permit. Yakama appealed the hearing examiner’s decision to the county board of commissioners. On April 10, 2018, at a public meeting where Yakama representatives were present, the board passed a resolution affirming the hearing officer’s decision and denying Yakama’s appeal. Three days later, a county planner sent an e-mail and letter to Yakama with the resolution attached. The letter noted the county code required written notification of the decision and stated that the administrative appeal had been exhausted. On May 2, 2018, 22 days after the resolution was adopted and 19 days after the county planner’s letter, Yakama filed a new petition in superior court. Yakima County and Granite Northwest (collectively, Granite NW) moved to dismiss the second petition as untimely under RCW 36.70C.040(4)(b) because the 21-day filing period began on the date the board of commissioners passed its resolution and Yakama’s petition was 1 day late. Granite NW also moved to dismiss the previously stayed petition, arguing the stay was conditional on Yakama timely filing its administrative appeal. Yakama responded that RCW 36.70C.040(4)(b) was inapplicable and instead RCW 36.70C.040(4)(a) governed the filing period, which began when the county planner transmitted the written resolution to Yakama. The superior court agreed with Yakama, finding Yakama’s land use petition was timely filed, and accordingly, did not dismiss Yakama’s earlier petition. The Court of Appeals reversed in an unpublished decision, concluding the later petition was not timely and did not address the previously stayed petition. After review, the Washington Supreme Court concluded Yakama's petition was timely filed. The Court of Appeals was reversed. View "Confederated Tribes & Bands of the Yakama Nation v. Yakima County" on Justia Law

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Lawrence Lavallie brought this personal injury action against Lorne Jay and Michael Charette after the parties were involved in a motor vehicle accident. The accident occurred on the night of December 26, 2016, on County Road 43 in Rolette County, North Dakota. Lavallie was driving a snowmobile on the roadway followed by Charette who was driving a GMC Yukon automobile. It was dark with blowing snow and poor visibility. Jay was operating a tractor, and in the process of blowing snow from his driveway. When Lavallie came upon Jay operating the tractor, the tractor was located in the middle of the roadway and did not have any lights or reflectors. Concerned that Charette would not be able to see the tractor in the roadway because it was dark and snowing and because the tractor did not have any lights or reflectors, Lavallie stopped the snowmobile alongside the tractor and tried to get Jay’s attention for him to move the tractor off of the road. While Lavallie was on the parked snowmobile trying to get Jay’s attention, Charette struck the snowmobile. First responders transported Lavallie to the Rolla hospital. Lavallie was transferred to Grand Forks where part of his leg was amputated. Jay appealed when the district court judgment ordered him to pay Lavallie $946,421.76, arguing the district court erred in denying his motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Jay conceded the district court was correct in finding the accident involving the parties in this case occurred outside the external boundaries of the Turtle Mountain Reservation. The North Dakota Supreme Court found the evidence in the record indicated the accident occurred on a county road located on land held in trust for the Tribe. "The question becomes whether district courts maintain subject matter jurisdiction over claims involving conduct between enrolled members of a tribe occurring on county roads located on Indian trust land." The Supreme Court found the district court did not determine whether the accident occurred on land held in trust for the Tribe. The district court also did not determine whether the parties to this action were enrolled members of the Tribe. Without such findings, the Supreme Court was unable to adequately consider whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate Lavallie’s claims. Therefore, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Lavallie v. Jay, et al." on Justia Law

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The State of Washington may exercise criminal jurisdiction over members of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation who commit crimes on reservation land. The panel held that the Yakama Nation had Article III standing to seek a permanent injunction regarding the effect of a Washington State Proclamation retroceding, or giving back, criminal jurisdiction to the United States. Under 25 U.S.C. 1323(a), the Proclamation retroceded, "in part," civil and criminal jurisdiction over the Yakama Nation to the United States, but retained jurisdiction over matters "involving non-Indian defendants and non-Indian victims." Based on the entire context of the Proclamation, the panel concluded that "and" is disjunctive and must be read as "or." Therefore, the panel held that, under the Proclamation, the State retained criminal jurisdiction over cases in which any party is a non-Indian. Therefore, the panel found that the Yakama Nation has not shown actual success on the merits in order to justify a permanent injunction. View "Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation v. Yakima County" on Justia Law

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The Sacramento County Department of Child, Family and Adult Services (Department) filed a dependency petition on behalf of the newborn minor pursuant to Welf. & Inst. Code section 300, subdivisions (b) and (j). The petition alleged the minor suffered, or was at substantial risk of suffering, harm due to substance abuse by mother and alleged father M.W. The petition further alleged substantial risk to the minor due to the abuse or neglect of, and eventual termination of mother’s parental rights over, the minor’s three half-siblings. Mother and M.W. reported they believed M.W. was the minor’s biological father but requested a paternity test for confirmation. Mother also reported the maternal grandfather had Native American heritage with the Apache Tribe, later confirming her claim in her parental notification of Indian status form (ICWA-020). M.W. denied having any Indian ancestry. At a detention hearing, the juvenile court made ICWA orders as to mother and ordered the minor detained. The Department interviewed mother in custody, and learned A.C. (father) could potentially be the minor's biological father. No parent was present for a January 2019 jurisdiction/disposition hearing. The court ordered the Department to continue its search for father and, upon locating him, inform him of the proceedings and his options for establishing paternity, and to make ICWA inquiry. Father appeared in court on March 27, 2019, and requested paternity testing to determine whether the minor was his biological child. By May 2019, father was given court appointed counsel, and was found to be the minor's biological father. Because family members refused to cooperate with a social worker's investigation, twelve tribes were contacted for help determining the minor's status as an Indian Child. Ten confirmed the minor was not an Indian for purposes of the ICWA, and the remainder did not respond by the time of the hearing. The court ruled the ICWA did not appeal as to the minor, and Father's parental rights to the child were ultimately terminated. He appealed, arguing the Department failed to comply with the ICWA. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile court's ICWA ruling and termination of parental rights. View "In re M.W." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff cardrooms, filed suit challenging the Secretary's approval of a Nevada-style casino project on off-reservation land in the County of Madera, California by the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, a federally recognized tribe. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Department and Secretary. The Ninth Circuit held that the Tribe's jurisdiction over the Madera Parcel operates as a matter of law and the Tribe clearly exercised governmental power when it entered into agreements with local governments and enacted ordinances concerning the property; because neither the Enclave Clause nor 40 U.S.C. 3112 are implicated here, neither the State's consent nor cession is required for the Tribe to acquire any jurisdiction over the Madera Parcel; and the Indian Reorganization Act does not offend the Tenth Amendment because Congress has plenary authority to regulate Indian affairs. Therefore, the Secretary's actions were not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. View "Club One Casino, Inc. v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Jordan Sandoval pleaded guilty to committing an assault in Indian Country which resulted in serious bodily injury. He was sentenced to a prison term of 27 months. Sandoval appealed the district court’s sentence as disproportionate by noting crimes either committed with greater intent or causing death are afforded only slightly higher sentencing ranges under the Guidelines. In the alternative, he argued his sentence was substantively unreasonable. Finding that the district court carefully considered Sandoval's arguments before sentencing, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in arriving at his sentence. View "United States v. Sandoval" on Justia Law

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In 1854, the Washington Territory and nine Native American tribes, including the Squaxin Island Tribe (the Tribe), entered into the 1854 Treaty of Medicine Creek (the Treaty), under which the Tribe relinquished their rights to land but retained “the right of taking fish at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations . . . , in common with all citizens of the Territory.” The District Court for the Western District of Washington has interpreted “fish” under the Treaty to include shellfish. In 1978, Leslie and Harlene Robbins (Robbins) purchased property in Mason County, Washington that included tidelands with manila clam beds. In connection with the purchase of the property, Robbins obtained a standard policy of title insurance from Mason County Title Insurance Company (MCTI) which provided MCTI would insure Robbins “against loss or damage sustained by reason of: . . . [a]ny defect in, or lien or encumbrance on, said title existing at the date hereof.” For years Robbins had contracted with commercial shellfish harvesters to enter Robbins’s property to harvest shellfish from the tidelands. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether MCTI had a duty to defend Robbins when the Tribe announced it planned to assert its treaty right to harvest shellfish from the property. The Court affirmed the Court of Appeals and remanded to the superior court for further proceedings. The Supreme Court held that because the insurance policy conceivably covered the treaty right and no exceptions to coverage applied, MCTI owed the property owners a duty to defend and, in failing to do so, breached the duty. Because this breach was unreasonable given the uncertainty in the law, MCTI acted in bad faith. Further, because the property owners did not seek summary judgment on MCTI’s affirmative defenses, the Supreme Court remanded to the superior court for consideration of the defenses. View "Robbins v. Mason County Title Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Under the Arizona-Florida Land Exchange Act (AFLEA), 102 Stat. 4571, 72 acres of the Phoenix Indian School Property were conveyed to Collier in exchange for Collier’s Florida lands plus $34.9 million. The Arizona InterTribal Trust Fund (AITF) was established for the benefit of ITCA-member Arizona tribes for “the cash amount required to be paid . . . by Collier upon closing.” In 1991, over ITCA's objections, the Secretary of the Interior agreed to allow Collier to make annual payments rather than full payment at closing. For several years, the Government released its liens on the Phoenix property. In 2013, Collier stated its intent to “no longer make payments” because the value of the remaining 15-acre Phoenix Property had decreased. Under a 2017 settlement agreement, Collier paid $16 million to the Government, which then sold the 15-acre Property for $18.5 million. ITCA sued, alleging that the Government breached its AFLEA fiduciary duties. The Claims Court dismissed in part. The Federal Circuit reversed in part. The Claims Court erred in dismissing the failure-to-maintain-sufficient-security portion of Claim I but properly dismissed the portion of that claim regarding the Government’s alleged failure to ensure adequate security when it negotiated the TFPA. The court properly dismissed Claim II, which alleged that the AFLEA “required the [Government] to collect from Collier all Trust Fund Payments required under the [AFLEA], and that the [Government’s] failure to collect all of the payments is a breach of trust.” View "Inter-tribal Council of Arizona v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the juvenile court's jurisdictional and dispositional orders concerning seven of Mother's children. Leslie is the presumed father of the four older children and Edward is the presumed father of the three younger children. The court held that the juvenile court had subject matter jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). In this case, California was the children's home state for purposes of the UCCJEA, and thus California courts have jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination. The court also held that the duties under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 were not met with respect to Edward's side of the family, but were met with respect to Mother's and Leslie's side of the family. View "In re Austin J." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit held that the Restoration Act governs the legality of the Tribe's gaming operations, which bars gaming that violates Texas law, rather than the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which establishes federal standards for gaming on Indian lands. The court also held that the district court correctly enjoined the Tribe's gaming operations because the Tribe's operations run contrary to Texas's gaming law and the balance of the equities weighed in favor of the State. Finally, the court held that the Texas Attorney General had authority to bring suit. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Texas v. Ysleta del Sur Pueblo" on Justia Law