Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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Wilton Rancheria, a Sacramento area Indian tribe, was federally recognized in 1927. The 1958 Rancheria Act disestablished Wilton and 40 other reservations. In 1979, several California rancherias, including Wilton, sued. The government agreed to restore Indian status. Wilton was erroneously excluded from the settlement. In 2009, the Department of the Interior restored Wilton’s federal recognition and agreed to “accept in trust certain lands formerly belonging to” Wilton. Wilton petitioned to acquire 282 acres near Galt for a casino. A draft environmental impact statement (EIS), under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321–4347, identified alternatives, including a 30-acre Elk Grove parcel. Wilton changed its preference and requested that the Department acquire the Elk Grove location. Objectors responded that acquiring the Elk Grove location would moot pending state-court suits.The Department’s final EIS identified the Elk Grove location as the preferred alternative. The Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary– Indian Affairs, Roberts, signed the Record of Decision (ROD) pursuant to delegated authority. Roberts had served as Acting Assistant Secretary– Indian Affairs (AS–IA), but after his acting status lapsed under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, Roberts continued to exercise the non-exclusive AS–IA functions. Black, who became Acting AS–IA in the new administration, signed off on the acquisition.Objectors filed suit before the issuance of the Department’s ROD and unsuccessfully sought a temporary restraining order. The D.C. Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the Department, rejecting claims that the Department impermissibly delegated the authority to make a final agency action to acquire the land to an official who could not wield this authority, was barred from acquiring land in trust on behalf of Wilton’s members, and failed to comply with NEPA. View "Stand Up For California! v. United States Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

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After the Indian Health Service agreed to pay the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community to run a health program on the Swinomish Reservation, Swinomish filed suit under the Contract Disputes Act and Declaratory Judgment Act, claiming that it was owed additional sums in direct and indirect contract support for costs calculated as percentages of the money it received from insurers and spent on health services. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the government's motion for summary judgment, holding that the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act does not require Indian Health Service to pay for contract support costs on insurance money received by Swinomish. Neither does Swinomish's contract with Indian Health Service. View "Swinomish Indian Tribal Community v. Becerra" on Justia Law

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Ranchers in the Upper Klamath Basin region filed suit to prevent the exercise of water rights that interfere with the irrigation of their lands. The district court dismissed the complaint based on lack of standing under Article III of the Constitution.The DC Circuit affirmed the dismissal and concluded that the Protocol Agreement executed by the United States and the Tribes does not delegate federal authority to the Tribes but recognizes the Tribes' preexisting authority to control their water rights under a Treaty in 1864 with the United States. The court explained that there is no concurrence requirement imposed by federal law on the Tribes' reserved instream water rights, whether by the 1864 Klamath Treaty or the federal government’s trust relationship; the McCarran Amendment subjects the Tribes' reserved water rights to state procedural rules in its quantification proceedings, but the substance and scope of the Tribes’ rights remain governed by federal law; Oregon law does not require federal government concurrence to enforce the Tribes' water rights; and thus invalidating the Protocol, and requiring the federal government to independently assess whether it would concur in the Tribes' calls, would not remedy the Ranchers' injuries. Because the Ranchers fail to show their alleged injuries are fairly traceable to federal government action or inaction, or would be redressed by striking the Protocol, they lack Article III standing. View "Hawkins v. Haaland" on Justia Law

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The Oklahoma Shawnee Tribe challenged the allocation of funds under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 801(a)(1). Of the $150 billion appropriated, the Act reserved $8 billion for “Tribal governments.” The amount paid to a Tribal government is determined by the Secretary of the Treasury “based on increased expenditures of each such Tribal government . . . relative to aggregate expenditures in fiscal year 2019 by the Tribal government." Rather than using the enrollment numbers submitted by the tribes, the Secretary relied on tribal population data used by HUD in connection with the Indian Housing Block Grant program.” That data does not reflect actual enrollment. The Secretary’s decision to use IHBG data had an unfortunate impact on the Shawnee Tribe, which had over $6.6 million in expenditures in 2019, and “incurred significant medical and public health expenses in responding to the devastation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.” It received $100,000.The district court, finding the allocation of funds under the Act unreviewable, dismissed the case. The D.C. Circuit reversed, with directions to enter a preliminary injunction promptly. By requiring that the allocations be “based on increased expenditures,” Congress has not left the Secretary with “unbounded” discretion. The court noted that the Secretary acknowledged that the IHBG data was inadequate as a proxy for increased expenditures in some cases but did not seek alternative information for the 25 tribes with no IHBG population. View "Shawnee Tribe v. Mnuchin" on Justia Law

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Title V of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) makes certain funds available to the recognized governing bodies of any "Indian Tribe" as that term is defined in the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA).The DC Circuit held that Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs), state-chartered corporations established by Congress to receive land and money provided to Alaska Natives in settlement of aboriginal land claims, do not qualify as Indian Tribes under the CARES Act and ISDA. Therefore, ANCs are not eligible for funding under Title V of the CARES Act.The court stated that an ANC cannot qualify as an "Indian tribe" under ISDA unless it has been "recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians;" because no ANC has been federally "recognized" as an Indian tribe, as the recognition clause requires, no ANC satisfies the ISDA definition; although ANCs cannot be recognized as Indian tribes under current regulations, it was highly unsettled in 1975, when ISDA was enacted, whether Native villages or Native corporations would ultimately be recognized; and the Alaska clause does meaningful work by extending ISDA's definition of Indian tribes to whatever Native entities ultimately were recognized—even though, as things later turned out, no ANCs were recognized. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the government and the intervenors, as well as the district court's denial of summary judgment to the plaintiff tribes. View "Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin" on Justia Law

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The Narragansett Tribe petitioned for review of the Commission's order denying its motion to intervene in a natural gas pipeline certificate proceeding after the certificate to build a pipeline had issued. While the Tribe awaited the Commission's action on its pending motion to intervene and its separate motion for reconsideration of an order allowing construction to commence, the pipeline was completed. In the process, more than twenty ceremonial stone features were destroyed. The Tribe then petitioned for review seeking only an order compelling the Commission to amend its regulation so that it cannot repeat the alleged violations of the National Historic Preservation Act in the future.The DC Circuit held that the Tribe lacked standing to seek such relief because it has not shown a substantial risk that a similar disagreement between it and the Commission will recur. Accordingly, the court dismissed the petition based on lack of jurisdiction. View "Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged one of the FCC's orders paring some regulatory requirements for the construction of wireless facilities. The Order exempted most small cell construction from two kinds of previously required review: historic-preservation review under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Furthermore, the Order effectively reduced Tribes' role in reviewing proposed construction of macrocell towers and other wireless facilities that remain subject to cultural and environmental review.The DC Circuit granted the petitions in part because the Order did not justify the Commission's determination that it was not in the public interest to require review of small cell deployments. In this case, the Commission did not adequately address possible harms of deregulation and benefits of environmental and historic-preservation review pursuant to its public interest authority under 47 U.S.C. 319(d). Therefore, the Order's deregulation of small cells was arbitrary and capricious. The court denied the petitions for review on the remaining claims. View "United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma v. FCC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that they were not subject to federal recordkeeping laws dealing with the distribution of cigarettes. The DC Circuit held that neither the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act of 1978 nor the implementing regulations contain any language exempting tribal entities operating on Indian reservations from the federal recordkeeping requirements. The Act's recordkeeping requirements apply to any person; under federal law, "person" includes "corporations"; plaintiffs are "corporations"; and therefore plaintiffs are "persons" and the Act's recordkeeping requirement applied to them. Furthermore, the statutory context was another reason why the district court correctly held that Congress did not exempt the corporate plaintiffs from the Act's recordkeeping provision. View "Ho-Chunk, Inc. v. Sessions" on Justia Law

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The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows a federally-recognized Indian tribe to conduct gaming on lands held in trust by the Secretary of the Interior for the tribe’s benefit, 25 U.S.C. 2710(b)(1), 2703(4)(B) if the lands had been taken into trust as of the Act’s effective date of October 17, 1988. The Act permits gaming on lands that are taken into trust after that date “as part of . . . the restoration of lands for an Indian tribe that is restored to Federal recognition” to ensure “that tribes lacking reservations when [the Act] was enacted are not disadvantaged relative to more established ones.” In 1992, the Mechoopda Tribe regained its federal recognition; 12 years later, the Tribe asked the Secretary to take into trust a 645-acre Chico, California parcel, so that the Tribe could operate a casino, arguing that the parcel qualified as “restored lands.” The Secretary agreed. Butte County, where the parcel is located, sued. The district court and D.C. Circuit upheld the Secretary’s decision, rejecting an argument that the Secretary erred by reopening the administrative record on remand. The court noted the Secretary’s findings concerning the Tribe’s historical connection to the land and whether current Tribe members were descendants of the historical Tribe and concluded that the Secretary’s substantive decision survives arbitrary-and-capricious review. View "Butte County, California v. Chaudhuri" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Department in an action challenging the Department's decision to take a tract of land into trust for the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians and authorized it to operate a casino there. The court held that the North Fork was an Indian tribe for which the Department had authority to acquire trust land under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). The court rejected plaintiffs' claims that the Department's trust decision violated the IRA, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. The court viewed the same extensive record and afforded the appropriate measure of deference to the Department's supportable judgments and concluded that its decisions were reasonable and consistent with applicable law. View "Stand Up For California! v. DOI" on Justia Law