Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative 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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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

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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

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Plaintiff-appellant Justin Hooper and the City of Tulsa disputed whether the Curtis Act, 30 Stat. 495 (1898), granted Tulsa jurisdiction over municipal violations committed by all Tulsa’s inhabitants, including Indians, in Indian country. Tulsa issued a traffic citation to Hooper, an Indian and member of the Choctaw Nation, and he paid a $150 fine for the ticket in Tulsa’s Municipal Criminal Court. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, Hooper filed an application for post-conviction relief, arguing the municipal court lacked jurisdiction over his offense because it was a crime committed by an Indian in Indian country. Tulsa countered that it had jurisdiction over municipal violations committed by its Indian inhabitants stemming from Section 14 of the Curtis Act. The municipal court agreed with Tulsa and denied Hooper’s application. Hooper then sought relief in federal court—filing a complaint: (1) appealing the denial of his application for post-conviction relief; and (2) seeking a declaratory judgment that Section 14 was inapplicable to Tulsa today. Tulsa moved to dismiss. The district court granted the motion to dismiss Hooper’s declaratory judgment claim, agreeing with Tulsa that Congress granted the city jurisdiction over municipal violations by all its inhabitants, including Indians, through Section 14. Based on this determination, the district court dismissed Hooper’s appeal of the municipal court’s denial of his petition for post-conviction relief as moot. Hooper appealed. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the federal district court erred in dismissing Hooper's declaratory judgment claim because even if the Curtis Act was never repealed, it was no longer applicable to Tulsa. The Court also agreed with Hooper that the district court erred in dismissing his appeal of the municipal court decision as moot based on its analysis of Section 14, but the Court determined the district court lacked jurisdiction over Hooper’s appeal from the municipal court. View "Hooper v. The City of Tulsa" on Justia Law

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An 1868 treaty established the Navajo Reservation that today spans some 17 million acres, almost entirely in the Colorado River Basin. While the Tribe has the right to use water from the reservation’s numerous water sources, the Navajos face water scarcity problems. The Navajos sought to compel the United States to take affirmative steps to secure needed water for the Tribe, by assessing the Tribe’s water needs, developing a plan to secure the needed water, and potentially building infrastructure. Three states intervened to protect their interests in Basin's water. The Ninth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit.The Supreme Court reversed. The treaty reserved necessary water to accomplish the purpose of the Navajo Reservation but did not require the United States to take affirmative steps to secure water for the Tribe. The federal government owes judicially enforceable duties to a tribe “only to the extent it expressly accepts those responsibilities.” While the treaty “set apart” a reservation for the “use and occupation of the Navajo tribe,” 15 Stat. 668, and did impose several specific duties on the United States, it contains no language imposing a duty on the United States to take affirmative steps to secure water for the Tribe. Indian treaties cannot be rewritten or expanded beyond their clear terms. The United States maintains a general trust relationship with tribes, but unless Congress has created a conventional trust relationship with a tribe as to a particular trust asset, common-law trust principles do not imply duties not found in the text of a treaty, statute, or regulation. It is unsurprising that an 1868 treaty did not provide for all of the Navajos’ current water needs 155 years later; a breach-of-trust claim “cannot be premised on control alone.” View "Arizona v. Navajo Nation" on Justia Law

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The Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians is a federally recognized Indian tribe. One of its businesses extended Coughlin a payday loan. After receiving the loan, Coughlin filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, triggering an automatic stay under the Bankruptcy Code against further collection efforts by creditors. The lender allegedly continued attempting to collect Coughlin’s debt. The First Circuit reversed the Bankruptcy Court's dismissal of Coughlin’s subsequent suit on tribal sovereign immunity grounds.The Supreme Court affirmed. The Bankruptcy Code unambiguously abrogates the sovereign immunity of all governments, including federally recognized Indian tribes; 11 U.S.C. 106(a), expressly abrogates the sovereign immunity of “governmental unit[s]” for enumerated purposes. Section 101(27) defines “governmental unit” as “United States; State; Commonwealth; District; Territory; municipality; foreign state; department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States.... a State, a Commonwealth, a District, a Territory, a municipality, or a foreign state; or other foreign or domestic government.” The sections cannot plausibly be read to preserve sovereign immunity. The definition of “governmental unit” exudes comprehensiveness and includes a broad catchall phrase, sweeping in “other foreign or domestic government[s].” Reading the statute to carve out certain governments from the definition of “governmental unit” would risk upending the Code’s policy choices. Federally recognized tribes are indisputably governments. Congress need not use any particular words to make its abrogation intent clear. View "Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians v. Coughlin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition precluding the circuit court from enforcing its September 30, 2022 order denying the Delaware Tribe of Indians' motion to transfer the underlying abuse and neglect proceedings to the District Court of the Delaware Tribe pursuant to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. 1901 to -1963, holding that the circuit court erred in denying the motion to transfer this action to the tribal court.The Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) filed a second amended abuse and neglect petition alleging that Father abandoned I.R. Father, who claimed to be a member of the Tribe, later indicated his desire to voluntarily relinquish his parental rights. The Tribe successfully moved to intervene in the proceedings, after which the court concluded that the ICWA was not applicable to these proceedings. The court thus denied the Tribe's motion to transfer this action to the tribal court. This petition seeking a writ of prohibition followed. The Supreme Court granted the writ, holding that the circuit court (1) erred in determining that the ICWA was inapplicable to this case; and (2) clearly erred in determining that good cause existed to deny transfer of this matter to the tribal court. View "State ex rel. Del. Tribe of Indians v. Honorable Nowicki-Eldridge" on Justia Law

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Disputes over the allocation of water within the Klamath Basin in southern Oregon and northern California, particularly during the recent period of severe and prolonged drought, have prompted many lawsuits in this and other courts. In this episode, Klamath Irrigation District (“KID”) petitions for a writ of mandamus to compel the district court to remand KID’s motion for preliminary injunction to the Klamath County Circuit Court in Oregon. The motion had originally been filed by KID in that Oregon court but was removed to federal district court by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (“Reclamation”), a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Interior. Reclamation was identified by KID as the respondent for KID’s motion.   The Ninth Circuit denied KID’s petition for writ of mandamus. The panel considered the five factors in Bauman v. U.S. District Court, 557 F.3d 813, 817 (9th Cir. 2004), in determining whether mandamus was warranted. The panel began with the third factor—clear error as a matter of law— because it was a necessary condition for granting the writ of mandamus. The panel rejected KID’s attempt to circumvent KID II, the Tribes’ rights, and the effect of the ESA by characterizing the relief it sought as an application of the ACFFOD. The panel expressed no views on the merits of KID’s underlying motion for preliminary injunction and concluded only that the district court did not err in declining to remand the motion for preliminary injunction to the state court. The panel held that it need not consider the remaining Bauman factors because the third factor was dispositive. View "IN RE: KLAMATH IRRIGATION DISTRICT V. USDC-ORM" 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

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A constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature and approved by the electorate in the 2020 general election made a number of changes governing the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (Commission or PRC). Those changes included alterations to the selection, qualifications, and terms of Commission members, and revision to the PRC’s constitutionally assigned responsibilities. Petitioners were three nonprofit organizations who represented the rights of Native Americans. Petitioners asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to declare the ratification of the constitutional amendment a nullity and to issue a writ of mandamus directing Respondent Advisory Committee of the New Mexico Compilation Commission (Advisory Committee) to remove the amendment from the Constitution. The Advisory Committee responded that Petitioners’ challenge was untimely and improperly raised against the committee through a petition for writ of mandamus, but took no position on the merits. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who was granted leave to intervene in these proceedings, joined the Advisory Committee’s timeliness arguments and additionally argued that the amendment was constitutional. After hearing oral arguments, the Supreme Court denied the petition for writ of mandamus, holding that the petition was timely, but that the amendment did not violate Article XIX, Section 1 of the New Mexico Constitution. View "Indigenous Lifeways v. N.M. Compilation Comm'n Advisory Comm." on Justia Law