Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
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The Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation (“Sycuan” or “Tribe”), a federally recognized Indian tribe, sought the reversal of the district court’s order granting labor union, Unite Here Local 30’s (“Unite Here”), motion for judgment on the pleadings with respect to its own complaint and motion to dismiss Sycuan’s counterclaim. Unite Here alleged that Sycuan violated the labor provisions of a contract between the two parties respecting the operation of a casino. The union brought suit to compel arbitration of that dispute pursuant to a clause contained in the contract. Sycuan opposed arbitration.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment on the pleadings in favor of Unite Here and the district court’s dismissal of a counterclaim brought by Sycuan. The court held the district court had original jurisdiction over Unite Here’s claims. Further, the court held that the district court had supplemental, but not original, jurisdiction over Sycuan’s counterclaim because the Declaratory Judgment Act does not confer jurisdiction, and Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act could not confer federal question jurisdiction.   The court concluded that the arbitrator should decide issues of contract validity, and the counterclaim rested on an issue of contract validity. Accordingly, the district court’s declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction served economy, convenience, and fairness. The court also held that Unite Here and Sycuan formed an agreement to arbitrate because Sycuan promised California that if any union made certain promises to the tribe, Sycuan would automatically enter into a bilateral contract with that union adopting the TLRO’s terms. View "UNITE HERE LOCAL 30 V. SYCUAN BAND" on Justia Law

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The federally-recognized Native American Tribe (in California) started an online lending business, allegedly operated by non-tribal companies owned by non-tribal Defendants on non-tribal land. The Plaintiffs are Virginia consumers who received online loans from tribal lenders while living in Virginia. Although Virginia usury law generally prohibits interest rates over 12%, the interest rates on Plaintiffs’ loans ranged from 544% to 920%. The Plaintiffs each electronically signed a “loan agreement,” “governed by applicable tribal law,” and containing an “Arbitration Provision.” The borrowers defaulted and brought a putative class action against tribal officials and two non-members affiliated with the tribal lenders.The district court denied the defendants’ motion to compel arbitration and motions to dismiss on the ground of tribal sovereign immunity except for a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) claim. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. The choice-of-law clauses of this arbitration provision, which mandate exclusive application of tribal law during any arbitration, operate as prospective waivers that would require the arbitrator to determine whether the arbitration provision impermissibly waives federal substantive rights without recourse to federal substantive law. The arbitration provisions are unenforceable as violating public policy. Substantive state law applies to off-reservation conduct, and although the Tribe itself cannot be sued for its commercial activities, its members and officers can be. Citing Virginia’s interest in prohibiting usurious lending, the court refused to enforce the choice-of-law provision. RICO does not give private plaintiffs a right to injunctive relief. View "Hengle v. Treppa" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs obtained short-term, high-interest loans from lenders owned by the Tribes. The standard loan contracts contained an agreement to arbitrate any dispute arising under the contract and a delegation provision requiring an arbitrator—not a court—to decide “any issue concerning the validity, enforceability, or scope of [the loan] agreement or [arbitration agreement].” The contracts stated that they were governed by tribal law and that an arbitrator must apply tribal law. Plaintiffs filed class-action RICO complaints against the Tribal Lenders. The district court denied the defendants’ motion to compel arbitration, reasoning that the arbitration agreement as a whole in each contract was unenforceable because it prospectively waived plaintiffs’ right to pursue federal statutory claims by requiring arbitrators to apply tribal law.The Ninth Circuit reversed. Rather than asking first whether the arbitration agreement was enforceable as a whole, the court must consider first the enforceability of the delegation provision specifically. The delegation provision was enforceable because it did not preclude plaintiffs from arguing to an arbitrator that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable under the prospective-waiver doctrine. The general enforceability issue must, therefore, be decided by an arbitrator. The choice-of-law provisions were not to the contrary because they did not prevent plaintiffs from pursuing their prospective-waiver enforcement challenge in arbitration. View "Brice v. Plain Green, LLC" on Justia Law

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Swiger accepted a $1200 loan from online lender Plain Green, an entity owned by and organized under the laws of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation, Montana. She describes Rees as the “mastermind” behind a "rent-a-tribe" scheme, alleging that he and his company used Plain Green's tribal sovereign immunity as a front to shield them from state and federal law. When Swiger signed the loan contract, she affirmed that Plain Green enjoys “immun[ity] from suit in any court,” and that the loan “shall be governed by the laws of the tribe,” not the laws of any state. She agreed to binding arbitration under tribal law, subject to review only in tribal court. The provision covers “any issue concerning the validity, enforceability, or scope of this Agreement or this Agreement to Arbitrate.” Seven months after accepting the loan, Swiger alleged that she repaid $1170.54 but still owed $1922.37.Swiger sued, citing Michigan and federal law, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and consumer protection laws. The district court concluded that the enforceability of the arbitration agreement “has already been litigated, and decided against Rees, in a similar case commenced in Vermont.” The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to stay the case pending arbitration. Swiger’s arbitration agreement includes an unchallenged provision delegating the question of arbitrability to an arbitrator. The district court exceeded its authority when it found the agreement unenforceable View "Swiger v. Rosette" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment confirming an arbitration award in favor of the State of New York. The court held that the arbitral panel – which did in fact consider the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) – reasonably concluded that its task in this case was a straightforward matter of contract interpretation not subject to the Secretary of the Interior's approval. The court explained that the panel did not disregard the IGRA, and deferral to the Department of the Interior was not warranted. Therefore, the arbitral panel did not manifestly disregard governing law, and the district court properly confirmed the award. View "Seneca Nation of Indians v. State of New York" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs obtained payday loans from AWL, an online entity owned by the Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Indians. The loan agreement stated that the loan was governed by tribal law and that the borrowers consented to the application of tribal law. The plaintiffs filed a purported class action, asserting that AWL charged unlawfully high interest rates, in violation of federal and Pennsylvania law, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1961-1968. The defendants moved to compel arbitration. The district court denied their motion, holding that the loan agreements, which provided that only tribal law would apply in arbitration, stripped the plaintiffs of their right to assert statutory claims and were therefore unenforceable. The Third Circuit affirmed. Because AWL permits borrowers to raise disputes in arbitration only under tribal law, and such a limitation constitutes a prospective waiver of statutory rights, its arbitration agreement violates public policy and is therefore unenforceable. View "Williams v. Medley Opportunity Fund II, LP" on Justia Law

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After attempting to persuade the Tribe to pay him for services provided under construction and rental agreements, Findleton requested that the Tribe mediate and arbitrate pursuant to clauses in the agreements. The Tribe failed to respond. Findleton filed a petition in March 2012, in the Mendocino County Superior Court to compel mediation and arbitration. The court held the Tribe had not waived its sovereign immunity. The Tribe sought attorney fees it had incurred in defending against Findleton’s petition, which the superior court granted. The court of appeal remanded, finding the Tribe had waived its sovereign immunity, reversing the award of fees. On remand, Findleton again filed a petition to compel mediation and arbitration and sought contractual attorney fees he had incurred in the prior appellate proceedings. The Tribe did not oppose the fee motion on the merits but requested that the court defer ruling until the Tribe filed a demurrer challenging the court’s jurisdiction. The superior court rejected that request and granted Findleton’s motion, awarding costs ($4,591.79) and attorney fees ($28,148.75). The court of appeal affirmed. The Tribe has not demonstrated that tribal remedy exhaustion was required here nor would requiring exhaustion at this late date serve any purpose other than further delay of a case that is already six years old. View "Findleton v. Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians" on Justia Law

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Oklahoma and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation (the “Nation”) entered into a Tribal-State gaming compact; Part 12 of which contained a dispute-resolution procedure that called for arbitration of disagreements “arising under” the Compact’s provisions. The terms of the Compact indicated either party could, “[n]otwithstanding any provision of law,” “bring an action against the other in a federal district court for the de novo review of any arbitration award.” In Hall Street Associates, LLC. v. Mattel, Inc., 552 U.S. 576, (2008), the Supreme Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) precluded parties to an arbitration agreement from contracting for de novo review of the legal determinations in an arbitration award. At issue before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was how to treat the Compact’s de novo review provision given the Supreme Court’s decision in Hall Street Associates. The Nation argued the appropriate course was to excise from the Compact the de novo review provision, leaving intact the parties’ binding obligation to engage in arbitration, subject only to limited judicial review under 9 U.S.C. sections 9 and 10. Oklahoma argued the de novo review provision was integral to the parties’ agreement to arbitrate disputes arising under the Compact and, therefore, the Tenth Circuit should sever the entire arbitration provision from the Compact. The Tenth Circuit found the language of the Compact demonstrated that the de novo review provision was a material aspect of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate disputes arising thereunder. Because Hall Street Associates clearly indicated the Compact’s de novo review provision was legally invalid, and because the obligation to arbitrate was contingent on the availability of de novo review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the obligation to arbitrate set out in Compact Part 12 was unenforceable. Thus, the matter was remanded to the district court to enter an order vacating the arbitration award. View "Citizen Potawatomi Nation v. State of Oklahoma" on Justia Law

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The Plaintiffs sued Payday Financial, Webb, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and other entities associated with Webb, alleging violations of civil and criminal statutes related to loans that they had received from the defendants. The businesses maintain several websites that offer small, high-interest loans to customers. The entire transaction is completed online; a potential customer applies for, and agrees to, the loan terms from his computer. The district court dismissed for improper venue, finding that the loan agreements required that all disputes be resolved through arbitration conducted by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe on their Reservation in South Dakota. Following a limited remand, the district court concluded that, although the tribal law could be ascertained, the arbitral mechanism detailed in the agreement did not exist. The Seventh Circuit held that the action should not have been dismissed because the arbitral mechanism specified in the agreement is illusory. Rejecting an alternative argument that the loan documents require that any litigation be conducted by a tribal court on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation, the court stated that tribal courts have a unique, limited jurisdiction that does not extend generally to the regulation of nontribal members whose actions do not implicate the sovereignty of the tribe or the regulation of tribal lands. View "Jackson v. Payday Fin., LLC" on Justia Law