Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government Contracts
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The Moodys leased Pine Ridge Indian Reservation parcels for agriculture. The government has a trust responsibility for Indian agricultural lands, 25 U.S.C. 3701(2). The Secretary of the Interior is authorized to participate in the management of such lands, with the participation of the beneficial owners and has delegated some responsibilities to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). BIA regulations generally allow Indian landowners to enter into agricultural leases with BIA approval. Each Moody lease defined “the Indian or Indians” as the “LESSOR.” The Claims Court concluded that the Oglala Sioux Tribe signed the leases. Other lease provisions distinguished between the lease parties and the Secretary of the Interior/United States. Issues arose in 2012. The BIA sent letters canceling the leases, noting that the Moodys could appeal the decision to the Regional Director. Within the 30-day appeal period, the Moodys returned with a cashier’s check in the proper amount, which the BIA accepted. The BIA informed the Moodys that they need not appeal, could continue farming, and did not require written confirmation. Subsequently, the Moodys received trespass notices and were instructed to vacate, which they did. The Moodys did not appeal within the BIA but sued the government. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal of the written contract claims for lack of jurisdiction because the government was not a party to the leases, for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because the Moodys did not have implied-in-fact contracts with the government, and for failure to raise a cognizable takings claim because their claim was based on the government’s alleged violation of applicable regulations. View "Moody v. United States" 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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Under the 1887 General Allotment Act and the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, the U.S. is the trustee of Indian allotment land. A 1996 class action, filed on behalf of 300,000 Native Americans, alleged that the government had mismanaged their Individual Indian Money accounts by failing to account for billions of dollars from leases for oil extractions and logging. The litigation’s 2011 settlement provided for “historical accounting claims,” tied to that mismanagement, and “land administration claims” for individuals that held, on September 30, 2009, an ownership interest in land held in trust or restricted status, claiming breach of trust and fiduciary mismanagement of land, oil, natural gas, mineral, timber, grazing, water and other resources. Members of the land administration class who failed to opt out were deemed to have waived any claims within the scope of the settlement. The Claims Resolution Act of 2010 ratified the settlement and funded it with $3.4 billion, The court provided notice, including of the opt-out right. Challenges to the opt-out and notice provisions were rejected. Indian allotees with interests in the North Dakota Fort Berthold Reservation, located on the Bakken Oil Shale (contiguous deposits of oil and natural gas), cannot lease their oil-and-gas interests unless the Secretary approves the lease as “in the best interest of the Indian owners,” 122 Stat. 620 (1998). In 2013, allotees sued, alleging that, in 2006-2009, a company obtained Fort Berthold allotment leases at below-market rates, then resold them for a profit of $900 million. The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the government, holding that the allotees had forfeited their claims by failing to opt out of the earlier settlement. View "Two Shields v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin contracted with the Indian Health Service (IHS) to operate what would otherwise have been a federal program, pursuant to the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA), 25 U.S.C. 450f, 450j–1(a). After other tribes successfully litigated complaints against the government for failing to honor its obligation to pay contract support costs, the Menominee Tribe presented its own claims to the IHS under the Contract Disputes Act. The contracting officer denied some claims as not presented within the CDA’s 6-year limitations period. The Tribe argued that the limitations period should be tolled for the two years in which a putative class action, brought by tribes with parallel complaints, was pending. The district court denied the equitable-tolling claim. The Court of Appeals and Supreme Court affirmed, holding that no extraordinary circumstances caused the delay. To be entitled to equitable tolling of a statute of limitations, a litigant must establish both that he has been pursuing his rights diligently and that some extraordinary circumstances prevented timely filing. The Court rejected the Tribe’s argument that diligence and extraordinary circumstances should be considered together as factors in a unitary test. The “extraordinary circumstances” prong is met only where the circumstances that caused the delay are both extraordinary and beyond the litigant’s control. The Tribe had unilateral authority to present its claims in a timely manner. Any significant risk and expense associated with litigating its claims were far from extraordinary. View "Menominee Tribe of Wis. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Tribe filed claims in 2005 against the Department for unpaid contract support costs that accrued from 1996 through 1998. At issue was whether the Tribe may sue under the doctrine of equitable tolling even though the statute of limitations has lapsed. The court concluded that the Tribe's claims were barred by the statute of limitations because the legal misunderstandings and tactical mistakes the Tribe identified did not amount to extraordinary circumstances justifying equitable tolling. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Menominee Indian Tribe v. United States" on Justia Law

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After the National Indian Gaming Commission decided that a 1994 consent decree involving the City of Duluth and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa was incompatible with federal law, the Band moved for dissolution of the consent decree. The City opposed the motion and the district court granted it in part and denied it in part. Both parties appealed. The Commission's change in the law governing Indian gaming made illegal what the earlier consent decree was designed to enforce. The 2011 decision by the Commission, the agency authorized by Congress to interpret and enforce the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 25 U.S.C. 2701 et seq., ruled that the 1994 arrangement between the City and the Band violated the Act. That determination provided ample support for the district court's decision to grant prospective relief from continued enforcement of the 1994 consent decree into the 2011 to 2036 period since continued execution of the agreement would be "no longer equitable." It was unclear what conclusion the district court would have reached without its mistaken belief that Rule 60(b)(6) was not available for consideration of potential retrospective relief. The district court abused its discretion by not examining all the relevant factors and therefore the court reversed the district court's decision denying retrospective relief to the Band for its obligations to pay rent withheld from 2009 to 2011 and remanded that question for further consideration.View "City of Duluth v. Fond Du Lac Band of Chippewa" on Justia Law

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ASNA is an inter-tribal consortium of federally recognized tribes situated in Alaska. In 1996, 1997, and 1998, ASNA contracted with the Department of Health and Human Services, under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act to operate a hospital. ISDA requires the government to pay costs reasonably incurred in managing the programs, 25 U.S.C. 450j-1. There have been three previous class actions concerning payments. One resulted in settlement; in two the courts denied class certification for failure to exhaust administrative remedies because claims had not first been submitted to the contracting officer. ANSA brought its claim, arguing that it was a putative class member in those suits even though it did not individually present claims to the contracting officer within the Contract Disputes Act six-year limitations period and that the limitations period was tolled while those cases were pending. The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals dismissed. The Federal Circuit reversed. The class actions involved similar issues and parties, and put the government on notice of the general nature and legal theory underlying ASNA’s claims. ASNA monitored the legal landscape, took action as appropriate, and reasonably relied upon controlling authority, holding that it did not need to exhaust administrative remedies to be a class member.View "Arctic Slope Native Assoc., Ltd. v. Sebelius" on Justia Law

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McGuire leased farmland in Arizona from the Colorado River Indian Tribes with approval of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. After the BIA removed a bridge that he used to access portions of the leased property, McGuire filed a Fifth Amendment claim. McGuire does not claim that removal of the bridge was itself a taking, but rather that the BIA’s alleged refusal to authorize replacement of the bridge was a taking of his property rights. The Court of Federal Claims rejected the claim. The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that the regulatory takings claim never ripened because McGuire failed to pursue administrative remedies. Even if McGuire’s claim had ripened, he had no cognizable property interest in the bridge, which he neither possessed nor controlled because it was in a BIA right-of-way. No federal regulation gave him a property interest and he was not entitled to an easement by necessity. View "McGuire v. United States" on Justia Law

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Twenty three former tribal employees sued the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma for breach of employment contracts. The contracts contained a limited waiver of sovereign immunity. Tribal law requires that waiver of sovereign immunity must be consented to by the Business Committee of the Tribe by resolution. The trial judge, on motion for reconsideration, granted the Tribe's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and dismissed the case. On appeal, the question before the Supreme Court was whether the Tribe expressly and unequivocally waived its sovereign immunity with respect to Plaintiffs' employment contracts. Upon review of the contracts and the applicable tribal resolutions and legal standards, the Supreme Court held that waiver of sovereign immunity was neither expressed nor consented to in the Business Committee's resolutions that authorized the Chief to sign the employment contracts. The Court affirmed the lower court’s decision.View "Dilliner v. Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma " on Justia Law

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The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA), 25 U.S.C. 450 et seq., directed the Secretary of the Interior to enter into contracts with willing tribes, pursuant to which those tribes would provide services such as education and law enforcement that otherwise would have been provided by the Federal government. ISDA mandated that the Secretary shall pay the full amount of "contract support costs" incurred by tribes in performing their contracts. At issue was whether the Government must pay those costs when Congress appropriated sufficient funds to pay in full any individual contractor's contract support costs, but not enough funds to cover the aggregate amount due every contractor. The Court held that, consistent with longstanding principles of Government contracting law, the Government must pay each tribe's contract support costs in full. View "Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter" on Justia Law