Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order refusing to compel the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs to place the Aqua Caliente Tribe of Cupeño Indians on a list of federally recognized tribes published in the Federal Register.The panel held that the Tribe failed to exhaust the regulatory process under 25 C.F.R. 83 to obtain federal recognition. Instead, the Tribe argued that the Part 83 process did not apply because they sought "correction" of the list, not recognition. However, the panel held that framing the issue as one of "correction" was unsupported by the applicable regulations and case law. In regard to the Tribe's equal protection and Administrative Procedure Act claims, the panel held that Interior had a rational basis for not making an exception to the Part 83 process for the Tribe. The panel concluded that it was rational for the Interior to ask the Tribe to demonstrate through the Part 83 process how they are a "distinct Community" from the Pala Band of Mission Indians and "politically autonomous" so that Interior may make the federal-recognition determination, and Interior's explanation for treating the Tribe differently from other tribes passed muster. View "Agua Caliente Tribe of Cupeño Indians of the Pala Reservation v. Sweeney" on Justia Law

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Six Native American plaintiffs filed suit challenging portions of North Dakota's election statutes, requiring a voter to present a specific form of identification at the polls before receiving a ballot. The district court enjoined the Secretary from enforcing certain statutory requirements statewide.The Eighth Circuit held that at least one of the plaintiffs had standing to raise a facial challenge to the statute. On the merits, the court held that plaintiffs' facial challenge to the residential street address requirement likely fails, and that the statewide injunction as to that provision cannot be justified as a form of as-applied relief; the statute's requirement to present an enumerated form of identification does not impose a burden on voters that justifies a statewide injunction to accept additional forms of identification; and the record is insufficient to justify enjoining the Secretary from enforcing the supplemental documents provision statewide. Accordingly, the court vacated the preliminary injunction and remanded for further proceedings. View "Brakebill v. Jaeger" on Justia Law

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In this case governed by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court to terminate Father’s rights to his minor child (Child), holding that Father’s contentions on appeal were unavailing.Specifically, the Court held (1) Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services provided the active efforts required under 25 U.S.C. 1912(d) to prevent the breakup of an Indian family; (2) Father did not establish that the Child was placed in a foster home in violation of the placement preferences set forth in 25 U.S.C. 1915; and (3) Father’s attorney did not provide ineffective assistance of counsel. View "In re A.L.D." on Justia Law

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Officials of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (the Department) challenged the trial court's order granting a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by Gregory Rhoades, a Native American prisoner incarcerated at Calipatria State Prison (Calipatria). In granting Rhoades's petition, the trial court concluded that the prohibition on the use of straight tobacco during prisoners' Native American religious ceremonies violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) and it ordered the California Department of Corrections to "formulate and implement policies permitting and reasonably regulating the possession and use of straight tobacco" during those ceremonies. The Court of Appeals concluded the trial court improperly granted relief in favor of Rhoades without holding an evidentiary hearing on disputed factual issues, and reversed and remanded matter with directions that the trial court hold an evidentiary hearing. View "In re Rhoades" on Justia Law

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In 2009, as part of a federal law-enforcement investigation, FBI and Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) agents arrested twenty-three people and searched twelve properties in and near three Utah cities. The operation targeted persons possessing and trafficking in Native American artifacts illegally taken from the Four Corners region of the United States. One day after agents searched Dr. James D. Redd’s home, arrested him as part of this operation, and released him on bond, Dr. Redd committed suicide. Dr. Redd’s Estate (“the Estate”) sued sixteen named FBI and BLM agents and twenty-one unnamed agents under “Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics,” (403 U.S. 388 (1971)), claiming that the agents had violated Dr. Redd’s Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court granted the Defendants’ motions to dismiss all of the Estate’s claims except one: a Fourth Amendment excessive-force claim against the lead BLM agent, Daniel Love. Later, on qualified-immunity grounds, the district court granted Agent Love summary judgment on that final claim. The Estate appealed the district court’s dismissal of the excessive-force claim. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Estate of James Redd v. Love" on Justia Law

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Enacted in response to the high incidence of domestic violence against Native American women, 18 U.S.C. 117(a), applies to any person who “commits a domestic assault within . . . Indian country” and who has at least two prior convictions for domestic violence rendered “in Federal, State, or Indian tribal court proceedings.” The Sixth Amendment guarantees indigent defendants appointed counsel in state or federal proceedings in which a term of imprisonment is imposed, but does not apply in tribal-court proceedings. The Indian Civil Rights Act, (ICRA) which governs tribal-court proceedings, includes a right to appointed counsel only for sentences exceeding one year, 25 U.S.C. 1302(c)(2). Supreme Court precedent holds that convictions obtained in state or federal court in violation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel cannot be used in subsequent proceedings “to support guilt or enhance punishment for another offense” except for uncounseled misdemeanor convictions for which no prison term was imposed. The Ninth Circuit reversed Bryant’s section 117(a) conviction, finding that the Sixth Amendment precluded use of his prior, uncounseled, tribal-court convictions a predicate offenses. The Supreme Court reversed. Because Bryant’s tribal-court convictions complied with ICRA and were valid when entered, use of those convictions as predicate offenses in a section 117(a) prosecution does not violate the Constitution. Bryant’s sentence for violating section 117(a) punishes his most recent acts of domestic assault, not his prior crimes. He suffered no Sixth Amendment violation in tribal court, so he cannot “suffe[r] anew” from a prior deprivation. ICRA sufficiently ensures the reliability of tribal-court convictions, guaranteeing “due process of law,” providing other procedural safeguards, and allowing a prisoner to challenge the fundamental fairness of proceedings in federal habeas proceedings. View "United States v. Bryant" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), 42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq., the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA), 42 U.S.C. 1996, the Free Exercise Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause. Specifically, plaintiffs sought to prevent the government from prosecuting them under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. 801 et seq., for possessing cannabis for religious or therapeutic use, obtaining cannabis, and cultivating or distributing cannabis consistent with state law. At issue in this appeal is the district court's grant of summary judgment for the government on the RFRA claim. The court concluded that, even assuming such use constitutes an “exercise of religion,” no rational trier of fact could conclude on this record that a prohibition of cannabis use imposes a “substantial burden.” Nothing in the record demonstrates that a prohibition on cannabis forces plaintiffs to choose between obedience to their religion and criminal sanction, such that they are being "coerced to act contrary to their religious beliefs." The court failed to see how prohibiting a substance that plaintiffs freely admit is a substitute for peyote would force them to act at odds with their religious beliefs. In light of Holt v. Hobbs, plaintiffs in this case have produced no evidence establishing that denying them cannabis forces them to choose between religious obedience and government sanction. The court rejected plaintiffs' claims under the AIRFA because the Act does not create a cause of action or any judicially enforceable individual rights. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Oklevueha Native Am. Church v. Lynch" on Justia Law

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Ute Tribe member Todd Murray died on April 1, 2007, after a police pursuit. Murray’s parents Debra Jones and Arden Post, on behalf of themselves and Murray’s estate, brought a 13-count complaint in the district court alleging various constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. 1983, conspiracy to violate civil rights under 42 U.S.C. 1985, and state tort claims. Claims were brought in varying permutations against nine individual law enforcement officers, their employers, and a private mortuary (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiffs also sought sanctions against Defendants for alleged spoliation of evidence. The district court granted summary judgment to the mortuary on Plaintiffs’ emotional distress claim, and to all remaining Defendants on all federal claims. The court also dismissed as moot Plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment on the status of Indian lands, and denied Plaintiffs’ motion for spoliation sanctions. The district court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law torts after disposing of the emotional distress claim and the federal claims. Plaintiffs appealed all of these rulings in two appeals. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court, but dismissed an appeal of the taxation of costs because it lacked appellate jurisdiction. View "Jones v. Norton" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, applying advantage gambling techniques, won a significant amount of money on video blackjack machines at a casino owned and operated by the Tonto Apache Tribe on tribal land. Plaintiffs filed suit against the tribal defendants, seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for violations of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and under state tort law for battery, false imprisonment, conversion, defamation, trespass to chattels, and negligence. The district court denied defendants' motion to dismiss. At issue was whether tribal officers may assert tribal sovereign immunity when sued in their individual capacities for an assertedly unconstitutional detention and seizure of property. The court concluded that sovereign immunity is a quasi-jurisdictional issue that, if invoked at the Rule 12(b)(1) stage, must be addressed and decided; the district court erred in concluding that it could deny the tribal defendants’ Rule 12(b)(1) motion even if they were entitled to tribal sovereign immunity; the tribal defendants are not entitled to tribal sovereign immunity, however, because they are being sued in their individual capacities, rather than in their official capacities, for actions taken in the course of their official duties; and whether the tribal defendants were acting under state or tribal law does not matter for purposes of this analysis, although it will matter for purposes of deciding whether plaintiffs can succeed in their section 1983 claim. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Pistor v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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Schlemm, a member of the Navajo Tribe, and a prisoner, sought an order requiring the prison to accommodate his religious practices under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc. Members of the Tribe honor the dead through dancing, praying, and eating traditional foods. Wisconsin concedes that this celebration is religious and that Schlemm sincerely believes that “traditional foods” should include game meat. The prison rejected his request for game meat or ground beef and his offer to secure a sealed platter from an outside vendor. The prison permits Jewish inmates to have outside vendors supply sealed Seder platters. Defendants maintain that serving venison would be too expensive, would exceed the capacity of institutional kitchens, and would violate a rule limiting prison foods to those certified by the USDA. The district court granted summary judgment, ruling that the denial does not impose a “substantial burden” on Schlemm’s religious exercise; the state has a “compelling governmental interest” in costs and using USDA-inspected meats; and that the denial is the “least restrictive means” of furthering those interests. The Seventh Circuit remanded, holding that the state was not entitled to summary judgment and ordering a preliminary injunction allowing Schlemm to order venison and to wear a multicolored headband while praying in his cell and during group ceremonies. View "Schlemm v. Frank" on Justia Law