Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Pit River Tribe and environmental organizations in an action under the Geothermal Steam Act, against federal agencies responsible for administering twenty-six unproven geothermal leases located in California's Medicine Lake Highlands. Pit River alleged that the BLM's decision to continue the terms of the unproven leases for up to forty years violated the Act. Determining that it had jurisdiction to hear this appeal, the panel held that the statutory meaning of 30 U.S.C. 1005(a) is clear and unambiguous: it only permits production-based continuations on a lease-by-lease basis, not on a unit-wide basis. In this case, BLM failed to meet its burden of providing a compelling reason for the panel to depart from the plain meaning of section 1005(a). Therefore, the panel rejected BLM's argument that section 1005(a) authorizes forty-year continuations on a unit-wide basis once a single lease in a unit is deemed productive. View "Pit River Tribe v. Bureau of Land Management" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the magistrate's dismissal of three pending misdemeanor charges against Defendant based on the legal proposition that Iowa courts lack jurisdiction over crimes committed on the Meskwaki Settlement, holding that the State may assert jurisdiction involving crimes committed on tribal lands by non-Indians involving either victimless crimes or non-Indian victims. An officer of the Meskwaki Nation Police Department filed two cases in district court alleging that Defendant committed the misdemeanor crimes of trespass, possession of drug paraphernalia, and violation of a no-contact order while on the Meskwaki Settlement. The magistrate dismissed the charges, concluding that recent federal legislation removed state jurisdiction for crimes committed on the Settlement. The Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of the charges and vacated the remaining portions of the district court's order, holding that the recent legislation left undisturbed state court criminal jurisdiction involving criminal acts involving non-Indians. View "State v. Stanton" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit held that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act does not preempt the imposition of statewide tax on the gross receipts of a nonmember contractor for services performed in renovating and expanding the Tribe's gaming casino located on the Reservation. The court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Tribe and held that the Tribe has failed to show that the tax has more than a de minimis financial impact on federal and tribal interests. Furthermore, the State's legitimate interests in raising revenues for essential government programs that benefit the nonmember contractor-taxpayer in this case, as well as its interest in being able to apply its generally applicable contractor excise tax throughout the State, were sufficient to justify imposing the excise tax on the construction services performed on the Casino's realty. Finally, the court granted the State's motion to dismiss the State Treasurer and remanded for further proceedings. View "Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe v. Haeder" on Justia Law

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After the Tribe failed to remit the use tax on goods and services sold to nonmembers at its casino and store, the State's Department of Revenue denied the Tribe renewals of alcoholic beverage licenses that were issued to the casino and the store. The South Dakota Office of Hearing Examiners upheld the decision and the Tribe appealed. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's conclusion that imposition of the South Dakota use tax on nonmember purchases of amenities at the Casino is preempted by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). Applying the analysis in White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker, 448 U.S. 136 (1980), the court held that the Tribe’s on-reservation Class III gaming activity is analogous to the nonmember logging activity on tribal land at issue in Bracker, and to the nonmember activity in building a reservation school at issue in Ramah Navajo School Bd., Inc. v. Bureau of Revenue of N.M., 458 U.S. 832, 838 (1982). Furthermore, raising revenues to provide government services throughout South Dakota does not outweigh the federal and tribal interests in Class III gaming reflected in the IGRA and the history of tribal independence in gaming. However, the court reversed the district court's Amended Judgment declaring that the State could not condition renewal of any alcoholic beverage license issued to the Tribe on the collection and remittance of a use tax on nonmember consumer purchases. In this case, the Tribe has failed to meet its burden to demonstrate that the State alcohol license requirement was not reasonably necessary to further its interest in collecting valid state taxes. View "Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe v. Noem" on Justia Law

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Intervenor-Appellant the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma (UKB) purchased an undeveloped 76-acre parcel of land near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, with the intention of developing it into a tribal and cultural center (Subject Tract, or Subject Parcel). The Subject Parcel sat entirely within the boundaries of the former reservation of Appellees the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma (Nation). In 2004, the UKB submitted an application to the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), requesting the BIA take the Subject Parcel into trust, thereby formally establishing a UKB tribal land base. The Nation opposed the application. After seven years of review, the BIA approved the UKB’s application. The Nation sued Department of the Interior and BIA officials, with the UKB intervening as defendants, challenging the BIA’s decision on several fronts. The district court found in favor of the Nation, determining that the BIA’s decision to take the Subject Parcel into trust was “arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law.” Among other holdings, the district court concluded that: (1) the BIA had to obtain Nation consent before taking the Subject Parcel into trust; (2) the BIA’s analysis of two of its regulations as applied to the UKB application was arbitrary and capricious; and (3) the BIA must consider whether the UKB meets the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA)’s definition of “Indian” in light of the Supreme Court case Carcieri v. Salazar, 555 U.S. 379 (2009). On appeal, the Tenth Circuit determined the Secretary of the Interior had authority to take the Subject Parcel into trust under section 3 of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936 (OIWA). The BIA was therefore not required to consider whether the UKB met the IRA’s definition of “Indian.” Nor was the BIA required to obtain the Nation’s consent before taking the land into trust. The Court also held the BIA’s application of its regulations was not arbitrary and capricious. View "Cherokee Nation v. Zinke" on Justia Law

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Four appeals arose from a consolidated subcase that was a part of the broader Coeur d’Alene-Spokane River Basin Adjudication (CSRBA). The United States Department of the Interior (the United States), as trustee for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe (the Tribe), filed 353 claims in Idaho state court seeking judicial recognition of federal reserved water rights to fulfill the purposes of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s Reservation (the Reservation). The Tribe joined the litigation. The State of Idaho (the State) and others objected to claims asserted by the United States and the Tribe. The district court bifurcated the proceedings to decide only the entitlement to water at this stage, with the quantification stage to follow. After cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court allowed certain claims to proceed and disallowed others. The district court specifically allowed reserved water rights for agriculture, fishing and hunting, and domestic purposes. The district court allowed reserved water rights for instream flows within the Reservation, but disallowed those for instream flows outside the Reservation. The district court determined priority dates for the various claims it found should proceed to quantification, holding generally the Tribe was entitled to a date-of-reservation priority date for the claims for consumptive uses, and a time immemorial priority date for nonconsumptive uses. However, in regard to lands homesteaded on the Reservation by non-Indians that had since been reacquired by the Tribe, the district court ruled the Tribe was entitled to a priority date of a perfected state water right, or if none had been perfected or it had been lost due to nonuse, the Tribe’s priority date would be the date-of-reacquisition. The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Supreme Court determined the district court improperly applied the controlling case law's rule of "primary-secondary" distinction and instead should have allowed aboriginal purposes of plant gathering and cultural uses under the homeland purpose theory. Furthermore, the Court determined the priority date associated with nonconsumptive water rights was time immemorial. The Court affirmed the remainder of the district court’s decisions and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Idaho" on Justia Law

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Jeffrey Antonio was driving his pickup truck a few miles north of Albuquerque when he was involved in a car accident. He was driving north but drifted into the southbound lane where he collided head-on with another vehicle. Antonio had been drinking, and at the time of the accident, he was significantly over the legal limit for driving. He had been convicted of driving under the influence on two occasions prior to his arrest in this case. This time, a passenger in the other vehicle was killed. A federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Antonio with one count of second-degree murder. As an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo, Antonio could be charged and tried in federal court if the accident occurred in Indian Country. The United States alleged that the accident occurred within the exterior boundaries of the Sandia Pueblo. Prior to trial, the United States filed a motion in limine asking the district court to rule that the site of the accident was in Indian Country to conclusively establish federal jurisdiction. After hearing the evidence, the district court judge stated he was “inclined to find” the site of the accident took place in Indian Country. One week before trial, Antonio filed a motion to dismiss the indictment for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12(b)(2). He argued that, as a matter of law, the accident site was on privately owned land and not in Indian Country. Therefore, there was no federal jurisdiction. The Tenth Circuit concluded the crime occurred within the exterior boundaries of the Sandia Pueblo, and therefore the federal court for the District of New Mexico was the proper forum for the prosecution. View "United States v. Antonio" on Justia Law

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Spurr is the stepmother of Nathaniel, a Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi (NHBP) tribal member in Fulton, Michigan. Nathaniel obtained an ex parte personal protection order (PPO) from the NHBP tribal court, alleging that Spurr engaged in a campaign of harassment against him that included unwanted visits to Nathaniel’s residence on the NHBP reservation and several hundred letters, emails, and phone calls. The tribal court, that same month, held a hearing and made the PPO “permanent” (lasting one year), broadly, prohibiting Spurr from contacting Nathaniel or “appearing within [his] sight.” The NHBP Supreme Court affirmed. Six months later, Nathaniel claimed that Spurr violated the PPO. After holding two hearings, the tribal court found Spurr in civil contempt and mandated that Spurr pay attorney’s fees incurred by Nathaniel for a hearing where Spurr failed to appear and $250 to NHBP for hearing costs. In lieu of the $250 payment, Spurr could choose to perform 25 hours of community service. Spurr sought a federal declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Spurr’s claims against the Band and the NHBP Supreme Court were barred by sovereign immunity; 18 U.S.C. 2265 established the tribal court’s jurisdiction. View "Spurr v. Pope" on Justia Law

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Members of the Tribe filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of various federal statutory and constitutional rights, stemming from traffic citations issued to members of the Tribe from a sheriff's deputy inside the boundaries of the Chemehuevi Reservation. The district court subsequently granted summary judgment to defendants. The panel held that the Chemehuevi Reservation includes Section 36, and that Section 36 is Indian country. Therefore, the County does not have jurisdiction to enforce California regulatory laws within it. Furthermore, the panel held that the individual members have a cause of action under section 1983 against defendants. However, the Tribe cannot assert its sovereign rights under the statute. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded in part. View "Chemehuevi Indian Tribe v. McMahon" on Justia Law

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Mother C.W. and father J.C. appealed a juvenile court’s orders terminating parental rights and freeing the minor for adoption. The parents contended the juvenile court erred in failing to find the beneficial parental relationship exception to adoption applied, and that the county and juvenile court failed to comply with the notice requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). After review of the specific facts of this case, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the parents’ first contention, but conditionally reversed and remanded the matter for further ICWA compliance. View "In re A.W." on Justia Law