Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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The Chemehuevi Indian Tribe filed a complaint against the United States, alleging mismanagement of funds and breach of trust. The Tribe sought an accounting and damages for the alleged mismanagement of the Parker Dam compensation funds, the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) Judgment funds, and the suspense accounts. The Tribe also claimed that the U.S. government's failure to approve a proposed lease of its water rights constituted a Fifth Amendment taking and a breach of trust.The United States Court of Federal Claims dismissed the Tribe's complaint, ruling that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. The court found that the Tribe was essentially seeking an accounting to discover potential claims against the government, rather than asserting a right to be paid a certain sum. The court also dismissed the Tribe's claims related to the proposed water rights lease, stating that the claim was outside the six-year statute of limitations.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the Tribe's complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The appellate court agreed that the Tribe was seeking an accounting to discover potential claims, rather than asserting a right to be paid a certain sum. The court also affirmed the dismissal of the Tribe's claim related to the proposed water rights lease, agreeing that it was outside the statute of limitations. However, the appellate court vacated the lower court's dismissal of the Tribe's claim for failure to state a takings claim, stating that the Tribe's decision to lease the water off-reservation could fulfill the purpose of the reservation. View "CHEMEHUEVI INDIAN TRIBE v. US " on Justia Law

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The Choctaw Nation and several pharmacies it owns and operates entered into agreements with Caremark, LLC, and its affiliates to facilitate insurance reimbursements for the Nation’s costs for pharmacy services for its members. The Nation filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Oklahoma, alleging that Caremark unlawfully denied pharmacy reimbursement claims in violation of the Recovery Act. After the matter was stayed in the Eastern District of Oklahoma, Caremark petitioned to compel arbitration of the Nation’s claims in the District of Arizona. The district court granted the petition, concluding that the parties’ agreements included arbitration provisions with delegation clauses and therefore an arbitrator must decide the Nation’s arguments that its claims are not arbitrable.The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision. The court held that most of the Nation’s arguments challenging the district court’s arbitration order were foreclosed by a previous case, Caremark, LLC v. Chickasaw Nation, which addressed the enforceability of identical arbitration provisions. The court also held that the Nation’s remaining argument that the District of Arizona lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the petition to compel arbitration failed because the Nation contractually agreed to arbitrate its claims against Caremark in Arizona, and in those contracts specifically “agree[d] to such jurisdiction.” Thus, the Nation expressly waived its tribal sovereign immunity as a bar to arbitration in the District of Arizona. View "CAREMARK, LLC V. CHOCTAW NATION" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a mobile home fire that resulted in two deaths. The government accused Mr. Joseph Allen Hernandez of intentionally setting the fire, supported by expert testimony from a fire investigator. Mr. Hernandez claimed that he had accidentally started the fire. The trial resulted in convictions on two counts of second-degree murder in Indian Country and one count of arson in Indian Country.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma had allowed the fire investigator to give expert testimony, despite objections from the defense. The court also permitted the investigator to testify that he did not believe Mr. Hernandez's explanation of the fire's cause.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit considered whether the district court had erred in allowing the fire investigator's expert testimony and whether the investigator's disbelief of Mr. Hernandez's explanation had intruded on a reasonable expectation of privacy. The appellate court found no error in the district court's decisions. The court held that the district court had not abused its discretion in allowing the fire investigator's expert testimony. It also found that the investigator's disbelief of Mr. Hernandez's explanation did not intrude on a reasonable expectation of privacy. The court affirmed the district court's rulings and Mr. Hernandez's convictions. View "United States v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

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The case involves the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA), which allows an Indian tribe to enter into a "self-determination contract" with the Indian Health Service (IHS) to administer healthcare programs that IHS would otherwise operate for the tribe. The San Carlos Apache Tribe and the Northern Arapaho Tribe sued the Government for breach of contract, arguing that although they used the Secretarial amount and program income to operate the healthcare programs they assumed from IHS under their self-determination contracts, IHS failed to pay the contract support costs they incurred by providing healthcare services using program income. The Ninth and Tenth Circuits concluded that each Tribe was entitled to reimbursement for such costs.The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the decisions of the Ninth and Tenth Circuits. The Court held that ISDA requires IHS to pay the contract support costs that a tribe incurs when it collects and spends program income to further the functions, services, activities, and programs transferred to it from IHS in a self-determination contract. The Court reasoned that the Tribe's self-determination contract incorporated ISDA, which required the Tribe to spend third-party program income on healthcare. Those portions of the Tribe’s healthcare programs funded by third-party income thus constituted “activities which must be carried on by [the Tribe] as a contractor to ensure compliance with the terms of the contract,” and the contract support costs associated with those activities were incurred “in connection with the operation of the Federal program.” The Court concluded that the text of ISDA, therefore, indicated that IHS was required to reimburse the Tribe for those costs. View "Becerra v. San Carlos Apache Tribe" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute between Lori Lundeen, a property developer, and Lake County, Montana. Lundeen planned to develop a 60-lot subdivision, Wild Horse RV Resort, on her property in Lake County. She intended to use roads through the Big Arm townsite for access to her development. The Board of Lake County Commissioners granted conditional approval for the development. However, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes contested the County’s ownership, regulatory authority, and right to use the access routes. Lundeen alleges that she relied on Lake County and the Lake County Attorney to research her access issue. After an eight-month moratorium on Lundeen’s development application, the Board conditionally approved an amended road layout for the development. Lundeen claims the Lake County Attorney represented to her that the Tribes’ claim was baseless and that she could proceed with the development.The District Court of the Twentieth Judicial District, Lake County, granted Lake County’s motion to dismiss Lundeen's lawsuit for failure to state a claim. The court reasoned that Lundeen was on inquiry notice of the negligent misrepresentation when she became aware the Tribes had blocked off her property. The court also determined the discovery and accrual rules for the statute of limitations were satisfied no later than when the Tribes blocked Lundeen’s access. Based on the applicable three-year statute of limitations, the court found Lundeen’s claims filed were time-barred.The Supreme Court of the State of Montana reversed the lower court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Supreme Court found that Lundeen had sufficiently asserted facts that, if accepted as true and viewed in the light most favorable to her, establish a basis for the claims asserted in her complaint. Therefore, the court concluded that the District Court erred by granting Lake County’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. View "Lundeen v. Lake County" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over the jurisdiction of personal injury claims arising from incidents at tribal gaming facilities. The plaintiffs, Jeremiah Sipp and Hella Rader, filed a complaint against Buffalo Thunder, Inc., Buffalo Thunder Development Authority, the Pueblo of Pojoaque, the Pueblo of Pojoaque Gaming Commission, and Pojoaque Gaming, Inc. (collectively referred to as Petitioners), alleging that Sipp was injured due to the negligence of the casino's employees. The complaint was initially dismissed by the district court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, but this decision was reversed by the Court of Appeals.The district court had granted the Petitioners' motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that the plaintiffs' claims did not fall within Section 8(A) of the Tribal-State Class III Gaming Compact (the Compact), which provides for state court jurisdiction over certain claims unless it is finally determined by a state or federal court that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) does not permit the shifting of jurisdiction over visitors’ personal injury suits to state court. The Court of Appeals, however, held that the plaintiffs' claims did fall under Section 8(A) and that neither of the two federal cases cited by the Petitioners, Pueblo of Santa Ana v. Nash and Navajo Nation v. Dalley, had triggered the termination clause in Section 8(A) of the Compact.The Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals, holding that the jurisdiction shifting under Section 8(A) of the Compact was terminated by Nash. The court reasoned that the plain language of the termination clause in Section 8(A) was clear and unambiguous, and that the federal district court's final determination in Nash that IGRA does not permit such a jurisdictional shifting constituted the qualifying event that terminates the Tribe’s duty to provide its “limited waiver of . . . immunity from suit.” Therefore, the court concluded that state courts do not possess subject matter jurisdiction to hear the plaintiffs' underlying claim. View "Sipp v. Buffalo Thunder" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over the Mauna Kea Access Road (MKAR) in Hawaii, which partially lies on Hawaiian home lands. The plaintiffs, who are Native Hawaiian beneficiaries of the Hawaiian home lands trust, sued the State of Hawaii and several of its departments, alleging that they breached their trust duties by allowing the State to use MKAR lands without payment since the 1970s. They also argued that the State's attempt to designate MKAR as a state highway in 2018 was ineffective as a matter of law.The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, based on Act 14 of 1995, which was intended to resolve all controversies relating to the Hawaiian home lands trust that arose between 1959 and 1988. The defendants argued that Act 14 remedied the uncompensated use of the Hawaiian home lands underlying the MKAR and made enforcement of a land exchange the exclusive remedy for the plaintiffs.The Supreme Court of the State of Hawaii disagreed with the lower court's ruling. The Supreme Court held that Act 14 of 1995 does not preclude the plaintiffs' claims, that the portion of the MKAR going through Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) lands is not a state highway because legal requirements for such a designation were not satisfied, and that the State breached its constitutional and fiduciary obligation to faithfully carry out the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, 1920. The Supreme Court vacated the lower court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Kanahele v. State" on Justia Law

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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