Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court terminating Father's rights to his two children, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion. Specifically, the Court held (1) the district court erred by proceeding without applying the requirements and standards of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) during the first year of the case, but the violations did not require invalidation of the proceedings; (2) even if the Department of Public Heath and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division (Department) failed to provide proper notice of the proceedings to the Little Shell Tribe as required by ICWA, any error was harmless; (3) the Department provided Father with active efforts to reunify his family; and (4) the district court applied the correct standards when terminating Father's parental rights, and the court's finding that Father was unlikely to change in a reasonable period of time was supported by substantial evidence and not an abuse of discretion. View "In re S.B." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decree of the family court terminating Mother's parental rights to her child, holding that the family court did not err when it terminated the rights of Mother, the non-Indian mother of an Indian child who was born suffering from severe medical issues. The trial court terminated Mother's rights after applying the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), finding that the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) had met the burden under the ICWA of engaging in active efforts to reunify the child with Mother, and concluding that the child would face serious emotional and physical harm if Mother was given custody of the child. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice did not err when she found that DCYF engaged in "active efforts" to reunify the child with mother as required by the ICWA in section 1912(d). View "In re Roman A." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Court of Appeals' judgment ruling that FMC must pay an annual use permit fee for storage of hazardous waste on fee lands within the Shoshone-Bannock Fort Hall Reservation pursuant to a consent decree settling a prior suit brought against FMC by the EPA under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The panel held that the judgment of the Tribal Court of Appeals was enforceable pursuant to the two exceptions under Montana v. United States, 450 U.S. 544 (1981). First, a tribe may regulate the activities of nonmembers who enter into consensual relationships with the tribe or its members. Second, a tribe retains inherent power to exercise civil authority over the conduct of non-Indians on fee lands within its reservation when that conduct threatens or has some direct effect on the political integrity, the economic security, or the health or welfare of the tribe. In this case, the panel held that the Tribes had regulatory jurisdiction to impose the permit fees because FMC entered into a consensual relationship when it signed a permit agreement with the Tribes. Furthermore, FMC's storage of millions of tons of hazardous waste on the Reservation fell within the second Montana exception. Finally, the panel held that the Tribal Court of Appeals did not deny FMC due process through a lack of impartiality. View "FMC Corp. v. Shoshone-Bannock Tribes" on Justia Law

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The Klamath River Basin Reclamation Project straddles the Oregon-California border and provides water to hundreds of farms. The Project is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation. In 2001, the Bureau temporarily halted water delivery to farms and water districts in order to comply with its tribal trust obligations under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1531. Plaintiffs alleged that action amounted to a taking without compensation, impaired their rights under the Klamath River Basin Compact, and caused the breach of water delivery contracts. The Claims Court rejected the suit on summary judgment. On remand, the Claims Court dismissed the breach of contract claims, determined that the takings claims should be analyzed as “physical takings,” and held a trial. The districts had been voluntarily dismissed as plaintiffs. As to the individual farmers, the Claims Court held that the Bureau’s actions did not amount to a taking and did not violate the Compact because the rights reserved for tribal fishing were superior. The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding the plaintiffs’ state water rights subordinate to the federal tribal rights, which were recognized in an 1864 treaty. The Bureau acted reasonably to preserve water levels necessary to avoid endangering fish. View "Baley v. United States" on Justia Law

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In this abuse and neglect case the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the circuit court's dispositional order placing three children in the legal and physical custody of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), holding that the circuit court erred by not terminating Mother's and Father's parental rights. Upon finding that Mother and Father were unable to adequately care for their three children the circuit court entered a final dispositional order placing the children in the custody of the DHHR. The guardian ad litem and DHHR appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred by not terminating the parents' parental rights. The parents also appealed, contending that the circuit court failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. 1901 to -1923. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the circuit court for entry of a dispositional order terminating Mother's and Father's parental rights, holding (1) there was no violation of the ICWA in this case; and (2) the best interests of the children required termination of Mother's and Father's parental rights pursuant to W. Va. Code 49-4-604(b)(6). View "In re N.R." on Justia Law

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King Mountain appealed the district court's judgment granting partial summary judgment for the State on its claims that King Mountain violated state laws on cigarette sales, and enjoining future violations. The State cross-appealed from the district court's dismissal of its claims under the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act (CCTA) and the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act (PACT Act). The Second Circuit reversed with respect to the district court's grant of summary judgment for King Mountain and the denial of summary judgment for the State on the PACT Act claim. The court agreed with the State that Congress's decision to separately define "Indian country" and "State" in the PACT Act evidenced Congressional intent to expand the traditional understanding of "interstate commerce" rather than narrow it. The court held that the definition of "commerce between a State and any place outside the State," encompassed King Mountain's sales from the Yakama reservation in Washington State to Indian reservations in New York. The court agreed with the district court's holding that King Mountain, which was organized under the laws of the Yakama Nation, wholly owned by a member of the Yakama Nation, and located on the Yakama reservation, qualified as an "Indian in Indian Country," and thus was exempt from the CCTA. The court held that King Mountain failed to establish a violation of the dormant Commerce Clause; there was no error in the district court's determination that the State's third claim for relief was not barred by res judicata; the district court correctly granted summary judgment for the State on its third claim for relief; and, to the extent King Mountain's argument related to trade, there was no right to trade in the Yakama Treaty. Therefore, the court affirmed in all other respects. View "New York v. Mountain Tobacco Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court terminating Father's parental rights to Child, holding that the record did not support that the Department of Public Health and Human Services, Child and Family Services Division (Department) engaged in active efforts to provide Father with remedial services and rehabilitative programs to prevent the breakup of Child's family, as required by 25 U.S.C. 1912(d). Child in this case was an Indian child, thus requiring that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) apply to the proceedings. After a termination hearing, the district court concluded the Department had made active efforts as required by ICWA, Father was not able safely to parent Child, and it was in Child's best interest to terminate Father's parental rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Department failed to provide Father with active efforts throughout the custody proceedings as required by ICWA. View "In re K.L." on Justia Law

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In this dispute between members of the Cayuga Nation, a federally-recognized Indian tribe, the Court of Appeals reversed the order of the Appellate Division affirming the denial of Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that permitting this action to proceed would require New York state courts to pass upon an internal tribal governance dispute over which they lack subject matter jurisdiction. Defendants, Jacobs Council, claimed that Plaintiffs, Halftown Council, had been removed from their positions on the Nation Council under Cayuga law. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) ultimately recognized the Halftown Council as the governing body authorized to contract on behalf of the Nation for certain funding. The Halftown Council later commenced this action. Supreme Court denied the Jacobs Council's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that although New York courts generally lack the ability to resolve an intra-tribal leadership dispute, they did not need do so here because the BIA's recognition determination established Plaintiffs as the Nation's lawful Council. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the BIA's determination did not resolve the disputed issues of tribal law implicated by the merits of this action, and therefore, New York state courts lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate Halftown Council's legal claims. View "Cayuga Nation v. Campbell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court dismissing Appellant's complaint for failure to state a claim, holding that Appellant failed to prove a set of facts in support of his claim. While detained in jail, Appellant filed a pro se petition for habeas corpus requesting that the district court drop all felony criminal convictions against him on the alleged grounds that the State had no jurisdiction because Appellant was an enrolled member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenani Tribes (CSKT) and committed a crime within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation. The district court dismissed for failure to state a claim. On appeal, Appellant argued that the application of Public Law 83-230 (PL-280) by the State was improper and has never been consented to by the CSKT. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Appellant's argument that PL-280 was never properly consented to by the CSKT is incorrect; (2) the State properly enacted its enabling legislation under PL-280; and (3) PL-280 and the State's application of PL-280 to the CSKT did not violate the 1855 Hellgate Treaty. View "Lozeau v. Anciaux" on Justia Law

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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