Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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The case involves Tony Lamonte Greene and Billie Wayne Byrd, who are incarcerated in an Oklahoma state prison. They, along with seven co-plaintiffs, filed actions in the Court of Federal Claims, arguing that their imprisonment is unlawful and seeking monetary compensation from the United States. They claim to be members of the Cherokee Nation and argue that under certain treaties between the Cherokee Nation and the United States, the State of Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction to prosecute and incarcerate them. They each seek $100 per day for unauthorized detention and more than $1,000,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.The Claims Court dismissed the plaintiffs’ actions for lack of jurisdiction. The court held that the plaintiffs failed to show that the treaties on which they relied gave rise to a personal right to monetary relief on their part in the event of a breach of the covenants relating to the exercise of civil and criminal jurisdiction within the Cherokee Nation. The court explained that claims based on treaties with Indian nations can fall within the jurisdiction of the Claims Court because they are treated as “a species of contract.” However, the court concluded that the treaties were not money-mandating.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the decision of the Claims Court. The court found that the treaty provisions the appellants relied upon are not money-mandating. The court also noted that the agreements addressed the respective rights of sovereignty of the two contracting parties; they did not create contract-based rights in individuals, the breach of which could give rise to monetary remedies for those individual complainants. The court concluded that the appellants’ claim does not fall within the reach of the Tucker Act, and therefore, the Claims Court lacked jurisdiction to address their demand for damages from the United States attributable to their prosecution and incarceration by the State of Oklahoma. View "GREENE v. US " on Justia Law

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The Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation filed a complaint against Idaho state officials concerning the interpretation of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Bridger between the United States and several bands of the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes, including the Shoshone’s Northwestern Band. Under the Treaty, the affiliated Shoshone and Bannock Tribes ceded most of their territory to the United States. At the same time, the Tribes expressly reserved their right to hunt on unoccupied lands of the United States. Idaho officials contend that the Treaty conditions the reserved hunting right on permanent residence on a designated reservation and that Northwestern Band members may not exercise the Tribes’ treaty-reserved hunting right because the Northwest Band does not reside on a designated reservation. The district court agreed with Defendants’ treaty interpretation. The only issue on appeal is whether the district court erred in concluding that the Treaty makes the reserved hunting right contingent on permanent residence on the Fort Hall or Wind River Reservations.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment. The panel held that the Treaty’s terms, which must be read in context and construed as they would naturally be understood by the Tribes, plainly do not condition the exercise of the reserved hunting right on the Northwestern Band relocating to a reservation. Because the district court did not reach the Idaho officials’ alternative arguments regarding political cohesion and necessary joinder, the panel remanded the case for the district court to address those issues in the first instance. View "NORTHWESTERN BAND OF THE SHOSHONE NATION V. GREG WOOTEN, ET AL" on Justia Law

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A-J.A.B. tested positive at birth for methamphetamine. H.J.B. (“Mother”) admitted methamphetamine use during her pregnancy. In March 2020, less than a month after A-J.A.B.’s birth, the Adams County Human Services Department (“the Department”) filed a petition in dependency and neglect concerning A-J.A.B. The Department’s petition noted that it had no information indicating that A-J.A.B. was an Indian child or eligible for membership in an Indian tribe, although the petition did not identify what efforts, if any, the Department took to determine whether A-J.A.B. was an Indian child. At the shelter hearing, Mother’s counsel informed the court that Mother may have “some Cherokee and Lakota Sioux [heritage] through [A-J.A.B.’s maternal great-grandmother].” However, Mother was uncertain if anyone in her family was actually registered with a tribe and acknowledged that she “probably [wouldn’t] qualify” for any tribal membership herself. The juvenile court ordered Mother to “fill out the ICWA paperwork,” but the court did not direct the Department to exercise its due diligence obligation under section 19-1-126(3). At the next hearing, Mother, who had not filled out the ICWA paperwork, again stated that she had “Native American heritage” through A-J.A.B.’s maternal great-grandmother. Because of these assertions, the juvenile court found that the case “‘may’ be an ICWA case.” By December 2020, the Department moved to terminate Mother’s parental rights. At the pretrial conference, Mother’s attorney informed the court that she spoke with A-J.A.B.’s maternal grandmother, who stated that she “thought that the heritage may be Lakota.” Mother’s attorney told the court “it doesn’t sound like there’s a reason to believe that ICWA would apply” and acknowledged that neither Mother nor A-J.A.B. were enrolled members of any tribe. The juvenile court subsequently concluded that “there [was] no reason to believe that this case [was] governed by [ICWA].” The juvenile court terminated Mother’s parental rights. Mother appealed, arguing the juvenile court erred in finding that ICWA did not apply because the court had a reason to know that A-J.A.B. was an Indian child. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the Department satisfied its statutory due diligence obligation under section19-1-126(3), and affirmed in different grounds. View "Colorado in interest of H.J.B." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff is the former Chief Financial Officer of the Cypress Bayou Casino. The Casino is owned by the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana. The Chitimacha Tribe is one of four federally recognized Indian tribes in Louisiana. According to the allegations in Plaintiff’s complaint, the Chitimacha tribal council authorized Spivey (as CFO of the Casino) to make a $3,900 bonus payment to the then-newly elected chairman of the tribal council. Plaintiff claimed that several members of the tribal council turned around and reported the bonus payment to federal and state law enforcement. Plaintiff initially sued the Tribe, the Casino, and four tribal council members in federal court under 42 U.S.C. Sections 1983 and 1985 and Louisiana tort law. The district court, over Plaintiff’s objections, again adopted the magistrate judge’s recommendations, denied Plaintiff’s remand motion, and dismissed all Plaintiff’s claims with prejudice.   The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded to state court. The court first wrote that when a district court determines that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a removed case, it must remand. The court held, in accordance with the statute’s plain text and the great weight of authority from across the country, that Section 1447(c) means what it says, admits of no exceptions, and requires remand even when the district court thinks it futile. Moreover, the court held that such a dismissal should be made without prejudice. View "Spivey v. Chitimacha Tribe" on Justia Law

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Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the District of South Dakota challenging the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Court’s exercise of jurisdiction in a custody matter involving his minor daughter, C.S.N. Petitioner claimed that the Tribal Court’s refusal to recognize and enforce North Dakota state court orders awarding him custody of C.S.N. violated the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA), 28 U.S.C. Section 1738A. The district court granted summary judgment to the Tribal Court after concluding that the PKPA does not apply to Indian tribes. Petitioner appealed.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the PKPA does not apply to Indian tribes. As a result, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Court is not obligated under that statute to enforce the North Dakota court orders awarding custody of C.S.N. to Petitioner. The district court properly granted summary judgment to the Tribal Court. The court further explained that its conclusion that the PKPA does not apply to Indian tribes is further supported by the fact that when Congress intends for tribes to be subject to statutory full-faith-and-credit requirements, it expressly says so. View "Aarin Nygaard v. Tricia Taylor" on Justia Law

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In 1992, the Crow Tribe brought a declaratory action against Wyoming Game and Fish officials to determine whether the 1868 Treaty with the Crows afforded it an unrestricted right to hunt in the Bighorn National Forest. Relying on a line of prior Supreme Court cases interpreting Indian treaties, the federal district court in Wyoming held in Crow Tribe of Indians v. Repsis (Repsis I), 866 F. Supp. 520 (D. Wyo. 1994), that Wyoming’s admission as a state extinguished the Tribe’s treaty hunting rights (the “Statehood Holding”). In Crow Tribe of Indians v. Repsis (Repsis II), 73 F.3d 982 (10th Cir. 1995), the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s Statehood Holding. Alternatively, the Tenth Circuit held that the Bighorn National Forest was “occupied,” so the Tribe’s treaty hunting rights would not have applied to the area in question (the “Occupation Rationale”), and also reasoned that Wyoming could have justified its restrictions on hunting due to its interest in conservation (the “Conservation Necessity Rationale”). In 2019, the Supreme Court decided Herrera v. Wyoming, 139 S. Ct. 1686 (2019), in response to Wyoming’s attempts to prosecute a Tribe member for hunting in Bighorn National Forest. Critically, the Court held that the Tribe’s treaty rights had not been extinguished by Wyoming’s admittance as a state and that Bighorn National Forest was not categorically “occupied.” On remand, Wyoming continued its efforts to prosecute the Tribe’s member, arguing in part that the defendant could not assert a treaty right to hunt in Bighorn National Forest because Repsis II continued to bind the Tribe and its members through the doctrine of issue preclusion. The Tribe moved for relief from Repsis II under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). But the district court denied the Tribe’s motion, holding that it lacked the power to grant relief because the Tenth Circuit relied on alternative grounds for affirmance (the Occupation and Conservation Necessity Rationales) that the district court had not considered in Repsis I. The Tribe appealed, arguing that the district court legally erred when it held that it lacked the power to review the Tribe’s Rule 60(b) motion. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court abused its discretion when it held that it lacked the authority to review the Tribe’s motion for post-judgment relief. The matter was remanded again for further proceedings. View "Crow Tribe of Indians, et al. v. Repsis, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Greenville Rancheria (Greenville) was a sovereign Indian tribe that owned administrative and medical offices (property) in the City of Red Bluff. Following a contested election, defendant Angela Martin was elected as Greenville’s chairperson, which included the authority to act as Greenville’s chief executive officer. After her election, Martin, along with approximately 20 people, including defendants Andrea Cazares-Diego, Andrew Gonzales, Hallie Hugo, Elijah Martin, and Adrian Hugo, entered the property and refused to leave despite the remaining members of the tribal council ordering them to leave and removing Martin’s authority as chairperson under Greenville’s constitution. Because of defendants’ failure to vacate the property, Greenville filed a verified emergency complaint for trespass and injunctive relief. The trial court granted Greenville a temporary restraining order, but later granted defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Greenville appealed. The Court of Appeal reversed: defendants did not point to any authority demonstrating the federal government’s intent to preempt state law or deprive state courts of subject matter jurisdiction in property disputes between tribal members occurring on lands outside tribal trust lands. "To conclude we lack jurisdiction over property disputes between tribal members on nontribal lands would limit tribal members’ access to state court, especially considering California courts have subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Public Law 280 over property disputes between tribal members on tribal trust lands. (Section 1360.) Consequently, the state court has jurisdiction to hear Greenville’s dispute against defendants regarding land it owns in fee simple that is not held in trust by the federal government." View "Rancheria v. Martin" on Justia Law

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The lawsuit giving rise to this appeal was brought by Plaintiff-appellant Manuel Corrales, on behalf of himself, against the California Gambling Control Commission (the Commission) and the two competing factions of the California Valley Miwok Tribe (the Tribe), including his former client, the "Burley faction." In the Court of Appeals' preceding opinion, CVMT 2020, the Court affirmed, on res judicata grounds, the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by attorney Corrales against the Commission on behalf of the Burley faction. Through this lawsuit, Corrales sought to ensure that he received payment from the Tribe for the attorney fees that he claims he was due under a fee agreement he entered into with the Burley faction in 2007. Specifically, even though the Tribe’s leadership dispute was still not resolved, Corrales sought either (1) an order requiring the Commission to make immediate payment to him from the Tribe’s RSTF money, or (2) an order that when the Commission eventually decides to release the Indian Gaming Revenue Sharing Trust Fund (RSTF) money to the Tribe, his attorney fees had to be paid directly to him by the Commission before the remainder of the funds were released to the Tribe. The trial court dismissed Corrales’s lawsuit because the question of whether Burley represented the Tribe in 2007 for the purpose of entering into a binding fee agreement with Corrales on behalf of the Tribe required the resolution of an internal tribal leadership and membership dispute, over which the courts lacked subject matter jurisdiction. After judgment was entered, Corrales brought a motion for a new trial and a motion for relief from default. Among other things, Corrales argued that the trial court should have stayed his lawsuit rather than dismissing it. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's dismissal, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Corrales v. Cal. Gambling Control Com." on Justia Law

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These appeals arise from a dispute over rights-of-way granted to WPX Energy Williston, LLC by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The areas are located on allotments of land owned by members of the Fettig family within the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. WPX Energy and the Fettigs agreed to a condition, which was incorporated into the grants, that bans smoking on the right-of-way land. In 2020, the Fettigs sued WPX Energy in the Three Affiliated Tribes District Court, alleging that the company breached the smoking ban. WPX Energy moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The tribal court concluded that it possessed jurisdiction over the case and denied the motion to dismiss. WPX Energy appealed the decision to a tribal appellate court. he district court concluded that WPX Energy had exhausted its tribal court remedies and that the tribal court lacked jurisdiction, so it granted a preliminary injunction.   The Eighth Circuit vacated the injunction and remanded to the district court with directions to dismiss the complaint without prejudice. The court concluded that WPX Energy did not exhaust its tribal court remedies and that a ruling in federal court on the question of tribal court jurisdiction was premature. The court explained that the policy of promoting tribal self-governance is not limited to tribal court proceedings that involve the development of a factual record. Rather, exhaustion of tribal court remedies “means that tribal appellate courts must have the opportunity to review the determinations of the lower tribal courts.” View "WPX Energy Williston, LLC v. Hon. B.J. Jones" on Justia Law

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removed an Alaska Native child from his mother and placed him with a relative, the child experienced suicidal ideation and checked himself into a psychiatric facility. Following a period of seemingly voluntary care, OCS requested a hearing to place the child at an out-of-state secure residential psychiatric treatment facility. The child’s Tribe intervened and challenged the constitutionality of AS 47.10.087, the manner in which evidence was received, and alleged due process violations. The child joined in some of these objections. The superior court ordered the child placed at a secure residential psychiatric treatment facility per AS 47.10.087. The Tribe, but not the child, appealed the placement decision, contending primarily that the superior court erred in proceeding under AS 47.10.087 and in making its substantive findings, and plainly erred in authorizing placement pursuant to AS 47.10.087 without addressing the Indian Child Welfare Act’s (ICWA) placement preferences. The Alaska Supreme Court found no error in the court’s application of AS 47.10.087 or its substantive findings, and thus affirmed the superior court’s placement determination. The Court expressed concern that the trial court failed to make required inquiries and findings related to ICWA’s placement preferences. However, this did not amount to plain error. The Supreme Court did not reach the Tribe’s other arguments as the Tribe has either waived them or lacked standing to raise them. View "Tuluksak Native Community v. Dept. of Health & Soc. Srvs." on Justia Law