Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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The case involves the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians ("Tribe") and their appeal against a district court's order that determined their usual and accustomed fishing grounds ("U&As") under the Treaty of Point Elliott did not include certain marine waters. The Tribe argued that their U&As extended beyond the Stillaguamish River and included marine waters to the east of Whidbey Island. The Tribe presented documentary evidence and expert testimony about the historical locations and activities of the Stillaguamish Tribe. However, the district court concluded that the Tribe had not provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate that they customarily fished in the disputed marine waters at and before treaty times.The district court's decision was based on the law of the case as set forth in United States v. Washington and its various sub-proceedings. The court applied the standard set forth in United States v. Washington for determining a tribe’s U&As, which required the Tribe to demonstrate that it fished the claimed waters before and at treaty time. The court concluded that the Tribe's evidence was too speculative to meet that standard.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the district court correctly applied the law of the case. However, the appellate court could not affirm the district court's factual findings or conclusions of law due to the lack of sufficient detail in the order. The appellate court vacated the order of the district court and remanded the case for further factual findings as to the Tribe’s evidence of villages, presence, and fishing activities in the disputed marine waters. View "STILLAGUAMISH TRIBE OF INDIANS V. STATE OF WASHINGTON" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Kimberly Graham, who was convicted for first-degree manslaughter and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. After her convictions became final, she applied for postconviction relief, arguing that she was a Native American and the events took place on a reservation. The state district court granted her relief and vacated her convictions based on the Supreme Court's ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which stated that the State of Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by Native Americans within a reservation. However, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals later overruled the precedent that allowed for the application of McGirt to convictions that had already become final. Consequently, the state district court reinstated Graham's convictions.Graham then sought a writ of prohibition from the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing that a liberty interest had arisen from the order vacating her convictions. The court denied her request, stating that the new precedent prevented the application of McGirt to convictions that had become final and that the initial order vacating the convictions was unauthorized under Oklahoma law. Graham then sought habeas relief, claiming that the reinstatement of her convictions had arbitrarily stripped her of her liberty interest. The federal district court agreed with Graham and granted habeas relief.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed the grant of habeas relief. The court held that regardless of whether the state appeals court had erred, its rejection of the due process claim was at least reasonable based on the facts and Supreme Court precedent. The court concluded that the state appeals court did not unreasonably determine the facts or apply a Supreme Court holding. Therefore, the federal district court should have deferred to the state appeals court. View "Graham v. White" on Justia Law

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In the early 20th century, Jim Wallahee, a citizen of the Yakama Nation, was convicted for illegal hunting when he killed a deer on ceded Yakama land. The Yakama Nation had signed a treaty with the United States government, which explicitly reserved many rights for the Yakama people, including the right to hunt on open and unclaimed lands. Despite this, Wallahee was convicted in 1924, and his conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the State of Washington, relying on precedent that has since been overturned.The lower courts did not recognize Wallahee's treaty right to hunt. The trial court convicted him, and the Supreme Court of the State of Washington affirmed his conviction, largely based on precedent established in Towessnute and Race Horse, decisions that have since been overturned. The court made a series of assertions that are both incorrect and harmful, including that “the Yak[a]ma Tribe was not an independent nation nor a sovereign,” that the Yakama people were “mere occupants” of their ancestral lands, and that the Yakama treaty was abrogated at statehood.In the present case, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington rejected the harmful logic that underpinned Wallahee's wrongful conviction and recognized that Wallahee had a clear and enforceable treaty right to hunt that deer. The court granted the motion to intervene, the motion to recall the mandate, and the motion to vacate Wallahee’s conviction. The court acknowledged that its 1927 opinion was incorrect on the law and advanced many centuries’ worth of harmful tropes about Native Americans. The court explicitly repudiated that belief and disavowed its opinions that reflected that belief. View "State v. Wallahee" on Justia Law

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A mother, Daisy M., appealed the termination of her parental rights to her daughter, D.M., arguing that the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) failed to conduct an adequate investigation under state law implementing the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA). The mother claimed that DPSS did not fulfill its duty of initial inquiry under Welfare and Institutions Code section 224.2, subdivision (b), which requires an investigation into the child's potential Indian heritage.The Superior Court of Riverside County had previously found that DPSS had conducted a sufficient ICWA inquiry and that ICWA did not apply. The court ordered the mother to file a Parental Notification of Indian Status form, which she did, denying any Indian ancestry. The court subsequently terminated the mother's parental rights after she was arrested for battery and driving under the influence, and the child was taken into protective custody.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District affirmed the lower court's decision. The court agreed with previous rulings that the expanded duty of initial inquiry under section 224.2(b) applies only if the child was placed into temporary custody without a warrant. As D.M. was taken into custody pursuant to a protective custody warrant, the expanded duty of initial inquiry under section 224.2(b) was not triggered. Therefore, the mother's argument failed. View "In re D.M." on Justia Law

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The case involves Douglas Smith, a non-Indian, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for an act he committed on his property located within the exterior boundaries of the Pueblo of Santa Clara. Smith shot and killed Maria Gallegos, who he saw trying to break into a trailer on his property. Prior to trial, Smith moved to dismiss the case for lack of federal jurisdiction, arguing that the federal district court lacked criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed on his property and that Congress acted outside its constitutional authority when it passed the Indian Pueblo Land Act Amendments of 2005. The district court denied his motion.Smith's case was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The appellate court had to decide whether federal criminal jurisdiction extends to land owned by a non-Indian within the exterior boundaries of a Pueblo. The court affirmed the district court's decision, concluding that Smith's property is Indian country under 18 U.S.C. § 1151, and therefore, his crime is subject to federal criminal jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. § 1152.Smith also claimed that the 2005 Amendment is unconstitutional as applied to him. The court disagreed, holding that the 2005 Amendment did not unconstitutionally extend federal criminal jurisdiction to Smith's land. The court reasoned that the 2005 Amendment only exercised preexisting federal jurisdiction over Smith's land and was thus not an unconstitutional enactment as applied to Smith.Lastly, Smith contended that the district court erred in declining his request for a two-level sentence reduction for accepting responsibility for his crime. The appellate court found no clear error in the district court's determination, noting that Smith had challenged the factual element of intent at trial, which provided a clear basis to conclude that he did not accept responsibility. The court affirmed the district court's decision. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

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In this case, the defendant, Patrick Murphy, was convicted of murder, murder in perpetration of kidnapping, and kidnapping resulting in death. The crimes occurred in 1999, but Murphy was not indicted until 2020, following a Supreme Court decision that clarified jurisdictional issues related to crimes committed in Indian Country. Murphy appealed his convictions, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support the kidnapping charges, that the prosecution was barred by the statute of limitations, and that the nearly two-decade delay between the murder and the federal prosecution violated his Fifth Amendment due process rights.The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit agreed with Murphy's argument regarding the kidnapping charges. The court held that, even viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, it did not show that Murphy held the victim for an appreciable period of time, which is a requirement under the federal kidnapping statute. However, the court rejected Murphy's other two arguments. The court found that the statute of limitations did not bar the prosecution because the crimes with which Murphy was charged are, as a general matter, punishable by death and thus not subject to the general five-year statute of limitations for non-capital federal crimes. The court also found that Murphy failed to demonstrate that the twenty-year delay in bringing the federal prosecution against him violated his Fifth Amendment due process rights.As a result, the court reversed Murphy's kidnapping-related convictions but affirmed his conviction for murder. The case was remanded to the district court for resentencing. View "United States v. Murphy" on Justia Law

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The case involves a father, H.A., who sought to vacate orders of the juvenile court that terminated his visitation rights and the mother’s reunification services, and set a hearing pursuant to Welfare and Institutions Code section 366.26. The father argued that the inquiry into the minors’ potential Indian heritage in this dependency case was insufficient and failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The San Joaquin County Human Services Agency had filed a section 300 petition on behalf of the minors based on the parents’ substance abuse, domestic violence, and the mother’s untreated mental health issues. Both parents denied having any Native American ancestry.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Third Appellate District agreed with the father's contention. The court found that the inquiry of relatives and family members about the minors’ potential Indian heritage was necessary to meet the requirements of the ICWA. The court noted that the Agency had contact with the maternal and paternal grandmothers and the paternal great-aunt, but did not ask them, or any other relatives, about possible Native American ancestry.The court vacated the juvenile court’s finding that the minors are not Indian children within the meaning of the ICWA and remanded the case to the juvenile court for further proceedings to address compliance with the inquiry and notice provisions of the ICWA. The court also issued a peremptory writ of mandate directing the respondent juvenile court to vacate the ICWA findings and conduct further proceedings to determine whether the ICWA inquiry and notice requirements have been met. The court emphasized the obligations of the parents’ and minors’ counsel, the juvenile court, and the Agency under the ICWA. View "H.A. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between two tribally owned businesses, AQuate II, LLC and Kituwah Services, LLC, both of which compete for federal contracts under the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development Program. AQuate alleges that Kituwah and its employee, Jessica Myers, stole trade secrets related to a government contract that AQuate had won in the past. AQuate claims that Myers, a former employee, breached her employment agreements and violated both the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 and the Alabama Trade Secrets Act. Kituwah, however, argues that it is shielded by tribal sovereign immunity, while Myers contends that her employment contract mandates that any claims against her can only be brought in a designated tribal court.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama dismissed the case, finding that Kituwah had not waived sovereign immunity for the trade secrets claims and that the claims against Myers should be resolved in the Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town court, as stipulated in her employment contract. AQuate appealed the decision, arguing that the tribal court did not exist.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s decision. The appellate court found that Kituwah had waived sovereign immunity for claims related to the federal contracting program and could be sued. Regarding Myers, the court determined that the district court failed to consider whether the clause naming the allegedly nonexistent tribal court as the appropriate forum was valid and enforceable. The case was remanded for further consideration. View "Aquate II, LLC v. Myers" on Justia Law

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The case involves Tony Lamonte Greene and Billie Wayne Byrd, who are incarcerated in an Oklahoma state prison. They, along with seven co-plaintiffs, filed actions in the Court of Federal Claims, arguing that their imprisonment is unlawful and seeking monetary compensation from the United States. They claim to be members of the Cherokee Nation and argue that under certain treaties between the Cherokee Nation and the United States, the State of Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction to prosecute and incarcerate them. They each seek $100 per day for unauthorized detention and more than $1,000,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.The Claims Court dismissed the plaintiffs’ actions for lack of jurisdiction. The court held that the plaintiffs failed to show that the treaties on which they relied gave rise to a personal right to monetary relief on their part in the event of a breach of the covenants relating to the exercise of civil and criminal jurisdiction within the Cherokee Nation. The court explained that claims based on treaties with Indian nations can fall within the jurisdiction of the Claims Court because they are treated as “a species of contract.” However, the court concluded that the treaties were not money-mandating.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the decision of the Claims Court. The court found that the treaty provisions the appellants relied upon are not money-mandating. The court also noted that the agreements addressed the respective rights of sovereignty of the two contracting parties; they did not create contract-based rights in individuals, the breach of which could give rise to monetary remedies for those individual complainants. The court concluded that the appellants’ claim does not fall within the reach of the Tucker Act, and therefore, the Claims Court lacked jurisdiction to address their demand for damages from the United States attributable to their prosecution and incarceration by the State of Oklahoma. View "GREENE v. US " on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Alaska affirmed a lower court's decision that the Copper River Native Association (CRNA), a non-profit corporation formed by federally recognized Alaska Native tribes, is an arm of its member tribes and thus entitled to tribal sovereign immunity. The case arose when a former employee sued CRNA over her termination. The superior court dismissed her complaint, concluding that CRNA was an arm of its member tribes and therefore entitled to sovereign immunity. The former employee appealed, arguing that CRNA was not entitled to tribal immunity. The Supreme Court of Alaska agreed with CRNA that the legal landscape defining the contours of tribal sovereign immunity has shifted significantly since its 2004 decision in Runyon ex rel. B.R. v. Association of Village Council Presidents. The court adopted a multi-factor inquiry to determine whether an entity is entitled to “arm-of-the-tribe” immunity. Applying this multi-factor inquiry, the court concluded that CRNA is an arm of its member tribes and affirmed the superior court's decision. View "Ito v. Copper River Native Association" on Justia Law