Justia Native American Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
Littlefield v. U.S. Dep’t of the Interior
The First Circuit affirmed the decision of the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to take two parcels of land in Massachusetts into trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribe, holding that the BIA's application of its legal interpretation to the facts was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.Appellants brought this action challenging the Interior's 2021 record of decision reaffirming its 2015 decision to take the land into trust for the Tribe, arguing that the Tribe did not qualify as a "tribe" within the meaning of the Indian Reorganization Act, that the Tribe was not "under Federal jurisdiction," and that the parcel of land was not eligible activities under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The district court granted summary judgment for the Interior and the Tribe. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Appellants were not entitled to relief on any of their allegations of error. View "Littlefield v. U.S. Dep't of the Interior" on Justia Law
SWINOMISH INDIAN TRIBAL CMTY., ET AL V. LUMMI NATION
This is the latest proceeding in a long-running case regarding Indian fishing rights in certain waters in Washington State. This proceeding was instituted by three Indian tribes who sought a ruling that the recognized fishing rights of the Lummi Nation (“the Lummi”) under the 1974 decree do not extend to certain areas. The current dispute centers on a single line in the decree recognizing that “the usual and accustomed fishing places” in which the Lummi have fishing rights “include the marine areas of Northern Puget Sound from the Fraser River south to the present environs of Seattle, and particularly Bellingham Bay.” (“Final Decision I”). The question is whether the specific waters in dispute here—namely, the sheltered waters east of Whidbey Island and south of Fidalgo Island—fall within the Lummi’s historical fishing territory. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Tulalip Tribes, and Upper Skagit Indian Tribe; dismissed as moot a cross-appeal filed by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe (collectively, “S’Klallam”) from the district court’s grant of summary judgment; and dismissed as moot S’Klallam’s appeal of the district court’s denial of the S’Klallam’s motion for reconsideration. Applying the two-step inquiry, the panel concluded that the district court correctly held that the Swinomish, Tulalip, and Upper Skagit carried their burden to warrant a ruling, under Paragraph 25(a)(1) of the 1974 Decree, that Judge Boldt’s “determination of Lummi’s usual and accustomed fishing grounds and stations” did not extend to the disputed waters at issue here. View "SWINOMISH INDIAN TRIBAL CMTY., ET AL V. LUMMI NATION" on Justia Law
JAMIEN JENSEN, ET AL V. EXC INCORPORATED, ET AL
This diversity suit involves personal injury and wrongful death claims arising from a collision between a sedan and a tour bus on a U.S. highway within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation reservation. Before trial, the district court held that Arizona law applies to the accident, and it therefore dismissed all claims based on Navajo law. At trial, the jury rejected all remaining claims asserted by the sedan’s surviving passengers and by the estate of the sedan’s driver, and the district court entered judgment in favor of the tour bus driver, the tour organizer, and other related corporations. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Defendants to the extent that it dismissed all claims that had been asserted solely under Navajo law; reversed the district court’s judgment on the claims that were submitted for trial because the district court erroneously allowed the introduction of hearsay opinions of a non-testifying putative expert; and remanded for a new trial. The panel held that the district court abused its discretion in allowing, under the guise of impeachment evidence against Plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, Defendants’ counsel to elicit the opinions expressed in a police report prepared by the Arizona Department of Public Safety as to the cause of the accident. Next, the panel affirmed the district court’s conclusion that Arizona law applied and its resulting dismissal of all claims that were asserted only under Navajo law. View "JAMIEN JENSEN, ET AL V. EXC INCORPORATED, ET AL" on Justia Law
Colorado in interest of H.J.B.
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
In re Andres R.
A.R. (Father) appealed the juvenile court’s dispositional order adjudging his son a dependent of the court and removing the child from his custody. The court also ordered reunification services for Father. Father’s one-year-old son, Andres R., came to DPSS’s attention in May 2022, when D.P. (Mother) called law enforcement to report domestic violence. Months later, the child was deemed a dependent of the court based on a social worker's findings of the child's living environment and interviews with his siblings and his mother. On appeal, Father challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the court’s jurisdictional finding and the removal order. He also argued that the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) failed to comply with state law implementing the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) . Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "In re Andres R." on Justia Law
In re Harris
Petitioner applied to the trial court in March 2022 to change his name. On the ground that Petitioner has “outstanding warrant(s),” the trial court denied Harris’s petition. The Second Appellate District affirmed because there was no abuse of discretion. The court explained that by statute, it was proper for the trial court to check law enforcement records when considering Petitioner’s petition to change his name. The California Legislature has directed courts to use the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS) and Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) to determine whether a name change applicant must register as a sex offender. View "In re Harris" on Justia Law
Crow Tribe of Indians, et al. v. Repsis, et al.
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
Rancheria v. Martin
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
Kansas ex rel Kobach, et al. v. U.S. Department of Interior, et al.
congressional mandate to compensate the Wyandotte Tribe for its loss of millions of acres in the Ohio River Valley morphed into a thirty-year dispute over ten acres in a Wichita, Kansas suburb. In 1992, eight years after Congress’s enacted remedy, the Tribe used $25,000 of that compensation to buy a ten-acre lot in Kansas called the Park City Parcel. The next year, the Tribe applied for trust status on the Park City Parcel under Congress’s 1984 enactment, but the Secretary of the Interior denied the application. The Tribe tried again in 2008, reapplying for trust status on the Park City Parcel to set up gaming operations. Since then, the State of Kansas opposed the Tribe’s efforts to conduct gaming on the Parcel. The State disputed the Tribe’s claim that its purchase came from the allocated $100,000 in congressional funds. And the State argued that no exception to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) authorized the Tribe to operate gaming on the lot. In 2020, the Secretary rejected the State’s arguments, approving the Tribe’s trust application and ruling that the Tribe could conduct gaming operations on the Park City Parcel. The district court agreed. And so did the Tenth Circuit. The Court affirmed the ruling that the Secretary was statutorily bound to take the Park City Parcel into trust and to allow a gaming operation there under IGRA’s settlement-of-a-land-claim exception. View "Kansas ex rel Kobach, et al. v. U.S. Department of Interior, et al." on Justia Law
Mestek v. Lac Courte Oreilles Community Health Center
The Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians is a federally recognized tribe in northwestern Wisconsin. In 2013 the Tribe’s Community Health Center hired Mestek as the Director of Health Information. In 2017 the Health Center implemented a new electronic health records system. Mestek soon raised questions about how the new system operated, expressing concern to management that the Center was improperly billing Medicare and Medicaid. An eventual external audit of the Center’s billing practices uncovered several problems. After receiving the audit results in 2018, Bae, the head of the Health Center, called Mestek into her office to ask if she was “loyal.” Mestek answered yes, but persisted in her efforts to uncover billing irregularities. A month later, Mestek learned that she was being fired in a meeting with the Medical Director and the HR Director. Mestek sued the Health Center and six individuals (in both their personal and official capacities) under the False Claims Act’s anti-retaliation provision, 31 U.S.C. 3730(h). The district court dismissed.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity precluded Mestek from proceeding; the Health Center is an arm of the Tribe. The individual employee defendants also properly invoked the Tribe’s immunity because Mestek sued them in their official capacities. View "Mestek v. Lac Courte Oreilles Community Health Center" on Justia Law