Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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Defendant-appellant Patrick Begay assaulted a man in the Navajo Nation with a baseball bat and a knife. The crime thus occurred in Indian country, within the boundaries of the reservation. Both Begay and the victim were enrolled members of the Navajo Nation. Begay was indicted in federal court on two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury. He pled guilty to these charges. The Probation Office issued a Presentence Report (“PSR”) calculating Begay’s guidelines imprisonment range to be 46 to 57 months. Begay requested that the court vary from this range because significantly higher penalties are imposed on Native Americans convicted of assault in New Mexico federal court than in New Mexico state court. Defense counsel requested to submit testimony regarding this asserted sentencing disparity. The government objected, arguing that under our precedents, if the district court “even considers this argument or this train of argument in any way whatsoever, any sentence rendered by the [c]ourt becomes invalid.” The sentencing judge agreed stating that she could not consider Begay’s sentencing-disparity argument pursuant to Tenth Circuit precedent. Moreover, the judge stated should would not consider the argument because the evidence Begay offered to present lacked sufficient detail to make any comparison of his sentence to state-court sentences meaningful. Begay was sentenced to 46 months' imprisonment. Although the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was sympathetic to Begay’s argument that but for an “an accident of history and geography,” he would have received a lighter sentence, the Court concluded its precedents foreclosed the consideration of federal/state sentencing disparities under 18 U.S.C. 3553(a)(6). Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United States v. Begay" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal for failure to join a required party in an action challenging the Jamul Indian Village's efforts to build a casino. The panel held that the distinction JAC urges between historic tribes and other tribal entities organized under the Indian Reorganization Act is without basis in federal law. The panel held that Jamul Indian Village is a federally recognized Indian tribe with the same privileges and immunities, including tribal sovereign immunity, that other federally recognized Indian tribes possess. Therefore, the Village's tribal sovereign immunity extends to its officers in this case. Because the Village is protected by tribal sovereign immunity, the panel agreed with the district court that the Village cannot be joined in this action and that the action cannot proceed in equity and good conscience without it. View "Jamul Action Committee v. Simermeyer" on Justia Law

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Nanouk uses her 160-acre Alaska Native allotment for traditional subsistence activities. In the 1980s, Nanouk built a small cabin, which she and her family reached by using a trail that runs from the main road through the U.S. Air Force North River Radio Relay Station, which closed in 1978. In 1981, the General Accounting Office criticized the Air Force’s failure to maintain shuttered sites, including North River, which contained hazardous chemicals. The Air Force and the Army Corps of Engineers began remediation, removing 500 gallons of transformer oil containing PCBs and PCB-contaminated soil. Surveys taken in 1987 and 1989 revealed that 6,700 cubic yards of contaminated soil remained. The Air Force and the Corps released a new plan in 2001; clean-up resumed. The trail that Nanouk used ran through a “hot spot” where PCB-contaminated soil was picked up by her vehicles. Nanouk did not learn about the PCBs on her property until 2003 when she reported a strong chemical odor. The Air Force then undertook extensive environmental remediation at the Station and Nanouk’s allotment. Nanouk sued, alleging trespass and nuisance. She and several family members have experienced serious health problems.The Ninth Circuit vacated the dismissal of her suit. The Federal Tort Claims Act's discretionary exception barred claims predicated on two of the acts she challenged as negligent--the government’s alleged failure to supervise contractors during the Station’s operation, and its abandonment of the property between the 1978 closure and 1990. The government did not establish that the exception barred the claims relating to the failure to identify and remediate the hot spot in a timely manner after 1990. View "Nanouk v. United States" on Justia Law

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The "[Indian Child Welfare Act] ICWA and [Washington State Indian Child Welfare Act] WICWA were enacted to remedy the historical and persistent state-sponsored destruction of Native families and communities. . . . The acts provide specific protections for Native children in child welfare proceedings and are aimed at preserving the children’s relationships with their families, Native communities, and identities. The acts also require states to send notice to tribes so that tribes may exercise their independent rights and interests to protect their children and, in turn, the continuing existence of tribes as thriving communities for generations to come." At issue in this case was whether the trial court had “reason to know” that M.G and Z.G. were Indian children at a 72-hour shelter care hearing. The Washington Supreme Court held that a trial court had “reason to know” that a child was an Indian child when a participant in the proceeding indicates that the child has tribal heritage. "We respect that tribes determine membership exclusively, and state courts cannot establish who is or is not eligible for tribal membership on their own." The Court held that an indication of tribal heritage was sufficient to satisfy the “reason to know” standard. Here, participants in a shelter care hearing indicated that M.G. and Z.G. had tribal heritage. The trial court had “reason to know” that M.G. and Z.G. were Indian children, and it erred by failing to apply ICWA and WICWA standards to the proceeding. View "In re Dependency of Z.J.G." on Justia Law

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During negotiations for a new tribal-state compact between the Pauma Band of Luiseno Mission Indians and California, Pauma sought authorization to offer on-track horse racing and wagering and an expanded set of lottery games. The parties met and corresponded. In 2015, Pauma triggered the 1999 Compact’s dispute resolution process. In January 2016, the state confirmed its agreement to renegotiate the 1999 Compact in full and told Pauma that it “look[ed] forward” to receiving a draft compact from Pauma with Pauma’s “plans for on-track betting.” Rather than propose a draft compact or disclose any information about the on-track facility, Pauma notified the state that it wanted to separately negotiate each item of the compact and proposed modifications to the 1999 Compact’s lottery game language. California rejected Pauma’s piecemeal negotiation approach, rejected Pauma’s lottery game language, and advised that it would send a “complete draft compact to guide our future discussions.” The subsequent 140-page draft addressed a broad array of topics. Pauma never responded but filed suit.The district court held that California satisfied its obligation to negotiate in good faith under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 25 U.S.C. 2701. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The state agreed to negotiate for the new types of class III gaming that Pauma sought authorization to offer, actively engaged in the negotiations, and remained willing to continue the negotiations when Pauma filed the litigation. View "Pauma Band of Luiseno Mission Indians v. California" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal concluding that the Governor acted lawfully when he concurred in the determination of the United States Secretary of the Interior (Interior Secretary) to allow casino-style gaming on tribal trust land in California, holding that California law empowers the Governor to concur.Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 25 U.S.C. 2701 et seq., the Interior Secretary may permit gaming on certain land taken into federal trust for an Indian tribe so long as the Governor of the state where the land is located concurs. At issue was whether the California Governor has the authority to concur in the Interior Secretary's determination to allow gaming on tribal trust land in California where the California Constitution has not granted explicit authority to concur in the cooperative-federalism scheme. The Supreme Court held that because the California Constitution, as amended in 2000, permits casino-style gaming under certain conditions on Indian and tribal lands and the Legislature imposed no restriction to the Governor's concurrence power, the Governor acted lawfully in concurring in the Interior Secretary's determination. View "United Auburn Indian Community of Auburn Rancheria v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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Rosas filed a representative action based on alleged participation in illegal internet payday loan practices. Defendant AMG is a wholly-owned tribal corporation of Miami Tribe, a federally recognized Indigenous American tribe. Rosas previously challenged a court order granting AMG's motion to quash service of summons for lack of jurisdiction based on tribal sovereign immunity. On remand, the court granted AMG’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction on the basis of tribal sovereign immunity. The court accepted AMG’s argument that the arm-of-the-tribe test should be applied to the current facts relating to its ownership and control rather than the facts that existed when the complaint was filed. The court credited AMG’s new, undisputed evidence concerning significant changes made to AMG’s structure and governance since the prior court ruling—changes that removed the nontribal actors from positions of authority and control and ended its involvement in the business of financial lending.The court of appeal affirmed. The court did not exceed the scope of the remand. When a court determines that a tribal entity is entitled to immunity from suit, the court lacks the authority, absent the tribe’s consent or federal authorization, to bring the tribal entity before the court for any purpose, including for the purpose of sanctioning misconduct. View "In re Internet Lending Cases" on Justia Law

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In 2013, defendant-appellant Donovan Muskett was indicted by grand jury, charged with four counts: assault with a dangerous weapon in Indian Country; aggravated burglary in Indian Country (based on New Mexico’s aggravated burglary statute by way of the federal Assimilative Crimes Act); using, carrying, possessing, and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to and in furtherance of a crime of violence; and negligent child abuse in Indian Country. Muskett entered into a plea agreement, under which he pled guilty to the brandishing a firearm charge, the government dismissed the remaining three counts. The parties agreed that, contingent on the district court's acceptance of the plea agreement, Muskett would be sentenced to 84 months in prison. The district court accepted Muskett’s plea and sentenced him to 84 months of imprisonment followed by a three-year term of supervised release. In this matter, Muskett appealed the denial of his motion to vacate the brandishing conviction as a crime of violence based on the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Davis, 139 S. Ct. 2319 (2019) (invalidating the residual clause in 18 U.S.C. 924(c)’s definition of a “crime of violence” as unconstitutionally vague). The parties’ primary disputed whether Muskett’s predicate federal felony—assault with a dangerous weapon, 18 U.S.C. 113(a)(3)—qualified as a crime of violence under the elements clause, thereby rendering harmless the Davis defect in his conviction. Muskett suggested the Tenth Circuit conduct this analysis using the law as it existed at the time of his conviction because application of current law would violate due process limits on the retroactive application of judicial decisions enlarging criminal liability. The Tenth Circuit found precedent compelled the conclusion that assault with a dangerous weapon was categorically a crime of violence under the elements clause. "And we conclude that at the time of his offense, Mr. Muskett had fair notice that section 924(c)’s elements clause could ultimately be construed to encompass his commission of assault with a dangerous weapon." The Court thus affirmed the district court's denial of Muskett’s section 2255 motion. View "United States v. Muskett" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the trial court terminating Father's parental rights to his children, holding that the trial court failed to comply with the mandatory notice requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act and that the post termination proceedings did not cure the errors.On appeal, Father asked the Supreme Court to vacate each of the judgments and orders entered in this case because the trial court failed to comply with the notice requirements under the Act before terminating his parental rights. The Supreme Court agreed and remanded the case, holding that where the trial court had reason to know that an Indian child might be involved and that where any notices the trial court sent failed to include all of the necessary information required by statute, the trial court's order terminating Father's parental rights must be reversed. View "In re E.J.B." on Justia Law