Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

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This was the second appeal in litigation arising from the Secretary of Health and Human Services' (HHS) decision not to enter into a self-determination contract with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe (Tribe). In an initial order, the district court ruled that HHS's decision was unlawful, granted summary judgment to the Tribe, and directed the parties to prepare a proposed order for injunctive relief. After the parties were unable to agree on the proposed order, the district court issued an interlocutory order in which it endorsed HHS's approach to the contract’s start date and contract support costs. The Tribe appealed, and the Tenth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. On remand, the district court issued a final order, directing the parties to enter a self-determination contract including HHS's proposed language regarding the contract start date and contract support costs and denying the Tribe’s request for damages. Both parties appealed. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's determination that HHS was required to contract with the Tribe and regarding the contract start date, but reversed the court's decision regarding contract support costs. View "Southern Ute Indian Tribe v. Sebelius" on Justia Law

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The Tenth Circuit considered whether the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) properly exercised its discretion to reject a gift of property by a member of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma to the tribe. The Court noted that this appeal also raised a novel jurisdictional question regarding its review of administrative decisions following a remand from district court. James Smith wanted to transfer to the tribe a portion of his property interest in the Maria Christiana Reserve No. 35 (southwest of Kansas City) where the tribe had plans to develop gaming facilities. Federal law and restrictions on Smith’s fee interest required the BIA to approve any transfer. Citing concerns regarding fractional land interests in the Reserve as well as the long-range best interests of Reserve landowners, the BIA denied Smith’s application to transfer the land. The Tribe challenged that decision. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit held the BIA properly exercised its discretion in denying the application. With regard to the jurisdictional question raised, the Court concluded that the government has not abandoned its right to challenge the district court’s remand order, even though the government substantially prevailed in the district court’s final judgment. The Court found the district court erred in its remand order reversing the BIA’s denial of Smith’s application. Therefore the Court vacated the district court’s final judgment and its order reversing the BIA, and remanded the case for further consideration of Smith’s application consistent with this opinion. View "Miami Tribe of Oklahoma v. United States, et al" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Charles Medicine Blanket unsuccessfully appealed his conviction on sexual assault charges. He sought the writ of habeas corpus from the Tenth Circuit to challenge the district court’s denial of his appeal. Though he committed his crimes in Colorado, Petitioner was arrested on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, and was extradited back to Colorado to stand trial. On appeal to the Tenth Circuit, Petitioner argued that his Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when he was arrested with an "invalid" federal warrant, and then removed from the reservation without an extradition hearing. Furthermore, Petitioner alleged that his trial attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel by failing to challenge his arrest warrant and extradition. The district court concluded that Petitioner failed to exhaust "certain due process claims" in his state post-conviction proceedings before bringing his appeal to the district court. Specifically, Petitioner failed to pursue his due process claims through "one complete round of the state’s appellate process." Upon careful consideration of the record and the applicable legal authority, the Tenth Circuit concluded that Petitioner did not exhaust his due process claims in the lower courts, and as such, the lower courts were correct in denying him the relief he sought. View "Medicine Blanket v. Brill" on Justia Law

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This case stems from Plaintiff Crowe & Dunlevy, P.C.'s (Crowe) legal representation of the Thlopthlocco in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation District Court in 2007. Nathan Anderson, a member of the Thlopthlocco Nation attempted a coup d'etat by declaring himself the only valid leader and purported to appoint a new government. While the "coup" proceeded through the tribal courts, the matter of paying the legal bill for Crowe's representation came up. With the "official" government in dispute, and tribal business halted from an injunction issued until the case was resolved, Mr. Anderson argued that his legal fees should be paid from the tribal treasury. The tribal district court dismissed his claim, reasoning that until the litigation was resolved, no one knew who had authority to spend Thlopthlocco funds. The court then ordered that any attorney fees paid from the tribe's treasury be refunded. Instead of complying with the order, Crowe filed suit with the federal district court, seeking to enjoin the tribal court from ordering a return of the legal fees. The federal court ruled in favor of Crowe, and the tribal judge, Defendant Judge Gregory Stidam, appealed. On appeal to the Tenth Circuit, Judge Stidham argued the case should have been dismissed because he was entitled to sovereign and judicial immunity. The Tenth Circuit found that the lower court did not abuse its discretion in granting the injunction against Judge Stidham's order. The Court affirmed the lower court's decision.

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Pursuant to the Indian Self-determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA), the United States enters into contracts with Indian tribes and tribal organizations for âthe planning, conduct and administration of programs or services which are otherwise provided to Indian tribes and their members pursuant to Federal law.â These agreements (Contract Support Cost contracts, or CSCs) include costs which are used for the running of essential tribal services, such as law enforcement, economic development and natural resource management. Congress mandated all CSCs be provided with full funding, but then failed to appropriate funds sufficient to pay all CSCs. Instead Congress capped appropriations at a level well below the sum total of CSCs. Several tribes sued seeking to collect the promised-but-unappropriated CSC money. The government argued that the phrase âsubject to the availability of appropriationsâ relieves it of the obligation to pay if the Congress doesnât appropriate the funds. The tribes argued that only Congressional funding decisionsânot the discretionary allocation decisions made by the Department of the Interiorâcan render an appropriation âunavailable.â The Tenth Circuit concluded that Plaintiffsâ interpretation is âreasonable,â and it reversed the district courtâs grant of summary judgment in favor of the government. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings.

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The defendant was convicted of being a spectator at a cockfight that occurred in Indian Country, in violation of the Assimilative Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 13, (assimilating Oklahoma law criminalizing cockfighting and being a spectator) as applied through the Indian Country Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 1152. The Tenth Circuit remanded for dismissal. The prosecution failed to present any evidence that the defendant was an Indian; Indian status of the victim or perpetrator is an element of the federal criminal statute. Federal courts lack jurisdiction over a victimless crime, committed in Indian Country by a non-Indian. The court noted that the state retains jurisdiction.

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One day after giving birth, the 17-year-old mother appeared in Utah state court to relinquish parental rights and consent to adoption. Although the mother's mother is a registered member of the Cherokee Nation, the court determined that the mother was not a member and that the baby was not subject to the 10-day wait for consent to adoption under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. 1901. The federal district court held that the baby was a member of the tribe and that the Act applied, but did not vacate the adoption. The Tenth Circuit reversed. While the Cherokee Nation Citizenship Act provides that "every newborn child who is a Direct Descendant of an Original Enrollee shall be automatically admitted as a citizen of the Cherokee Nation" for 240 days after birth and there was evidence that the baby is a direct descendant, the Citizenship Act does not govern application of ICWA. ICWA defines an Indian child as having a parent who is a tribe member.