Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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Plaintiff Seneca Nation brought a lawsuit seeking relief from New York State, the New York Thruway Authority, and the Thruway Authority’s Executive Director (collectively “Defendants”) for ongoing use of an invalid easement over its tribal land. Defendants appealed the denial of their motion to dismiss. Defendants contend that the Nation is collaterally estopped from bringing this present action based on a 2004 judgment of this court and that this lawsuit is barred by the Eleventh Amendment.   The Second Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Seneca Nation does not assert property rights over land to which New York State has traditionally held the title and does not seek a declaration that the State’s laws and regulations do not apply to the area in dispute. Therefore, the quiet title exception to Ex parte Young outlined by the Court in Coeur d’Alene Tribe has no application here. Accordingly, the lawsuit falls under the Ex parte Young exception to the Eleventh Amendment. Thus, neither collateral estoppel nor the Eleventh Amendment bars the Nation from proceeding in this case. View "Seneca Nation v. Hochul" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Appellants' complaint against the Town of Lynnfield, Massachusetts and several of the town's agencies and employees (collectively, Lynnfield) in this dispute over Appellants' spring water business, holding that there was no error or abuse of discretion.Appellants owned and operated the Pocahontas Spring in Lynnfield, Massachusetts, which sat on protected wetlands subject to state and local regulations. When Appellants sought to revive their spring water business and to maintain the Spring for Native Americans as a source of healing water. Appellants brought this complaint alleging that Lynnfield conspired to have neighbors lodge false complaint about Appellants' allegedly unlawful activities at the Spring and Lynnfield would respond to intimidate Appellants and interfere with their business. The First Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint, holding that Appellants' failure adequately to brief their two First Amendment claims proved fatal in this case. View "Gattineri v. Town of Lynnfield, Mass." on Justia Law

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Wisconsin assessed property taxes on lands within four Ojibwe Indian reservations. The tribal landowners have tax immunity under an 1854 Treaty, still in effect, that created the reservations on which they live. Supreme Court cases recognize a categorical presumption against Wisconsin’s ability to levy its taxes absent Congressional approval. The parcels in question are fully alienable; their current owners can sell them at will because the parcels were sold by past tribal owners to non-Indians before coming back into tribal ownership. Wisconsin argued that the act of alienating reservation property to a non-Indian surrendered the parcel’s tax immunity. No circuit court has considered whether the sale of tax-exempt tribal land to a non-Indian ends the land’s tax immunity as against all subsequent tribal owners, nor does Supreme Court precedent supply an answer.The district court ruled in favor of the state. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Once Congress has demonstrated a clear intent to subject land to taxation by making it alienable, Congress must make an unmistakably clear statement to render it nontaxable again but these Ojibwe lands have never become alienable at Congress’s behest. Congress never extinguished their tax immunity. The relevant inquiry is: who bears the legal incidence of the tax today--all the relevant parcels are presently held by Ojibwe tribal members. View "Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin v. Evers" on Justia Law

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Lisa Poitra appealed an order of eviction, arguing the district court lacked jurisdiction to enter the eviction order because the Trenton Indian Housing Authority (“TIHA”) constituted a dependent Indian community, and a contract provision required the eviction to be handled by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians Tribal Court. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the record supported the district court’s finding that TIHA was not a dependent Indian community, the court’s determination that it had subject matter jurisdiction, and the finding TIHA did not have a contractual obligation to bring the eviction action in the tribal court. View "Trenton Indian Housing Authority v. Poitra, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2017, Andeavor agreed with the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, known as the Three Affiliated Tribes, to renew the right-of-way over tribal lands, and to pay trespass damages for continued operation of an oil pipeline after expiration. Andeavor then began renewal negotiations with individual Indian landowners. In 2018, the Allottees filed a putative class action seeking compensatory and punitive damages for ongoing trespass and injunctive relief requiring Andeavor to dismantle the pipeline. The district court granted Andeavor's motion to dismiss, concluding that the Allottees failed to exhaust administrative remedies with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).The Eighth Circuit concluded that the case turns on issues sufficiently within the primary jurisdiction of the BIA to warrant a stay, rather than dismissal, to give the BIA opportunity to take further action. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. The court denied the Allottees' motion to dismiss Robin Fredericks as a plaintiff. View "Chase v. Andeavor Logistics, L.P." on Justia Law

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The Nation and some of its officials filed suit against the Village of Union Springs and certain of its officials, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) preempts the Village's ordinance regulating gambling as applied to the Nation's operation of a bingo parlor on a parcel of land located within both the Village and the Nation's federal reservation, and for corresponding injunctive relief.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Nation, agreeing with the district court that neither issue nor claim preclusion bars this suit and that IGRA preempts contrary Village law because the parcel of land at issue sits on "Indian lands" within the meaning of that Act. View "Cayuga Nation v. Tanner" on Justia Law

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The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 25 U.S.C. 2719, allows a federally recognized Indian tribe to conduct gaming on lands taken into trust by the Secretary of the Interior as of October 17, 1988 and permits gaming on lands that are thereafter taken into trust for an Indian tribe that is restored to federal recognition where the tribe establishes a significant historical connection to the particular land. Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians regained its federal recognition in 1991 and requested an opinion on whether a Vallejo parcel would be eligible for tribal gaming. Yocha Dehe, a federally recognized tribe, objected. The Interior Department concluded that Scotts Valley failed to demonstrate the requisite “significant historical connection to the land.” Scotts Valley challenged the decision.Yocha Dehe moved to intervene to defend the decision alongside the government, explaining its interest in preventing Scotts Valley from developing a casino in the Bay Area, which would compete with Yocha Dehe’s gaming facility, and that the site Scotts Valley seeks to develop "holds cultural resources affiliated with [Yocha Dehe’s] Patwin ancestors.”The D.C. Circuit affirmed the denial of Yocha Dehe’s motion, citing lack of standing. Injuries from a potential future competitor are neither “imminent” nor “certainly impending.” There was an insufficient causal link between the alleged threatened injuries and the challenged agency action, given other steps required before Scotts Valley could operate a casino. Resolution of the case would not “as a practical matter impair or impede” the Tribe’s ability to protect its interests. View "Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation v. United States Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court dismissing Appellant's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that the superior court did not err in determining that Appellant's dispute with Regina Petit and the Passamaquoddy Tribe was an "internal tribal matter."After Appellant contacted the Chief of Police for the Passamaquoddy Tribe and caused Appellant to be served with a no-trespass notice, Appellant filed a complaint against Petit and the Tribe. The superior court granted Petit and the Tribe's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that the dispute involved an "internal tribal matter." The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the most appropriate forum for this case was the tribal court. View "Moyant v. Petit" on Justia Law

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The State of Alaska claimed the right under Revised Statute 2477 (RS 2477) to clear land and permit the use of boat launches, camping sites, and day use sites within an alleged 100-foot right of way centered on a road on land belonging to an Alaska Native corporation, Ahtna, Inc. Ahtna sued, arguing that its prior aboriginal title prevented the federal government from conveying a right of way to the State or, alternatively, if the right of way existed, that construction of boat launches, camping sites, and day use sites exceeded its scope. After years of litigation and motion practice the superior court issued two partial summary judgment orders: (1) holding as a matter of law that any preexisting aboriginal title did not disturb the State’s right of way over the land; and (2) holding as a matter of law that the right of way was limited to ingress and egress. To these orders, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err, therefore affirming both grants of partial summary judgment. View "Ahtna, Inc. v. Alaska, Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, et al." on Justia Law

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The Tribe purchased the coastal property and applied to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take the property into trust, 25 U.S.C. 5108. The federal Coastal Zone Management Act requires that each federal agency whose activity affects a coastal zone must certify that the activity is consistent with state coastal management policies, 16 U.S.C. 1456(c). The Bureau determined the Tribe’s proposal is consistent with state coastal policies, including public access requirements in the Coastal Act. (Pub. Resources Code 30210). The Coastal Commission concurred after securing commitments from the Tribe to protect coastal access and coordinate with the state on future development. If the Tribe violates those policies, the Coastal Commission may request that the Bureau take remedial action. The plaintiffs use the Tribe’s coastal property to access the beach. They allege that the property's prior owner dedicated a portion of it to public use, in 1967-1972 and sought to quiet title to a public easement for vehicle access and parking; they did not allege that the Tribe has interfered with their coastal access or plans to do so.The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Sovereign immunity bars a quiet title action to establish a public easement for coastal access on property owned by an Indian tribe. Tribal immunity is subject only to two exceptions: when a tribe has waived its immunity or Congress has authorized the suit. Congress has not abrogated tribal immunity for a suit to establish a public easement. View "Self v. Cher-AE Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria" on Justia Law