Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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Plaintiffs sued the Arkansas Division of Corrections (ADC), alleging its policies violate the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). After a bench trial, the district court dismissed the complaint. It found that their religious beliefs were not sincerely held; that even if they were sincerely held, the policies did not substantially burden those beliefs; and that even if there was a substantial burden, the policies were the least restrictive means to further ADC’s compelling interests. Plaintiffs appealed.   The Eighth Circuit vacated the judgment and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. The court explained that the district court found that ADC lacks the staff and space for separate Jumu’ah services. But Plaintiffs proposed alternatives, including utilizing other available spaces, partitioning the same space, and scheduling two Jumu’ah services in the same space at different times. The district court neither addressed these proposed alternatives to determine whether they were available or would effectively address ADC’s compelling security interests nor addressed whether the prison’s reasons for refusing to offer an accommodation were persuasive in light of the evidence that other prisons are able to do so. Correctly applying the governing law to Plaintiffs’ challenge requires that the court do so. Further, the court wrote that the district court also found that ADC’s religious headdress policy did not substantially burden Plaintiffs’ beliefs because ADC informally allows them to wear kufis in violation of the policy. But even if ADC does not enforce it consistently, the policy expressly prohibits Plaintiffs from wearing their kufis except during religious services. View "Gregory Holt v. Dexter Payne" on Justia Law

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Defendant’s mother called local dispatch and said an officer needed to come by because her son was “acting up.” A Bureau of Indian Affairs Officer was dispatched to the home, learning on the way that Defendant had an active tribal arrest warrant. Defendant’s mother invited Defendant into the living room and told Defendant to join them. The officer told Defendant he was “going to have to take you because you got that warrant.” Defendant fled to the garage, pursued by the officer, where Defendant knocked the officer down and escaped. Defendant was charged with forcibly assaulting, resisting, opposing, impeding, intimidating, or interfering with a federal officer and inflicting bodily injury. The jury convicted him of the lesser included offense of forcible assault of a federal officer involving physical contact. The district court sentenced Defendant to 44 months’ imprisonment. He appealed, raising numerous evidentiary issues and challenging the assessment of a two-level sentencing increase.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that here, the amicable conversation -- dominated by Defendant-- occurred in his mother’s home, a non-custodial atmosphere. The officer testified he did not know what the warrant was based on. Defendant fled only after the officer later told him he would be arrested, confirming that Defendant initially believed or at least hoped that he could avoid immediate arrest. Further, the court explained that even if Defendant was in custody, follow-up questions to clarify ambiguity do not amount to “interrogation” unless “their point is to enhance the defendant’s guilt.” The court concluded the district court did not err in denying Defendant’s motion to suppress. View "United States v. Jade LaRoche" on Justia Law

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Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the District of South Dakota challenging the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Court’s exercise of jurisdiction in a custody matter involving his minor daughter, C.S.N. Petitioner claimed that the Tribal Court’s refusal to recognize and enforce North Dakota state court orders awarding him custody of C.S.N. violated the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA), 28 U.S.C. Section 1738A. The district court granted summary judgment to the Tribal Court after concluding that the PKPA does not apply to Indian tribes. Petitioner appealed.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the PKPA does not apply to Indian tribes. As a result, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Court is not obligated under that statute to enforce the North Dakota court orders awarding custody of C.S.N. to Petitioner. The district court properly granted summary judgment to the Tribal Court. The court further explained that its conclusion that the PKPA does not apply to Indian tribes is further supported by the fact that when Congress intends for tribes to be subject to statutory full-faith-and-credit requirements, it expressly says so. View "Aarin Nygaard v. Tricia Taylor" on Justia Law

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These appeals arise from a dispute over rights-of-way granted to WPX Energy Williston, LLC by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The areas are located on allotments of land owned by members of the Fettig family within the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. WPX Energy and the Fettigs agreed to a condition, which was incorporated into the grants, that bans smoking on the right-of-way land. In 2020, the Fettigs sued WPX Energy in the Three Affiliated Tribes District Court, alleging that the company breached the smoking ban. WPX Energy moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The tribal court concluded that it possessed jurisdiction over the case and denied the motion to dismiss. WPX Energy appealed the decision to a tribal appellate court. he district court concluded that WPX Energy had exhausted its tribal court remedies and that the tribal court lacked jurisdiction, so it granted a preliminary injunction.   The Eighth Circuit vacated the injunction and remanded to the district court with directions to dismiss the complaint without prejudice. The court concluded that WPX Energy did not exhaust its tribal court remedies and that a ruling in federal court on the question of tribal court jurisdiction was premature. The court explained that the policy of promoting tribal self-governance is not limited to tribal court proceedings that involve the development of a factual record. Rather, exhaustion of tribal court remedies “means that tribal appellate courts must have the opportunity to review the determinations of the lower tribal courts.” View "WPX Energy Williston, LLC v. Hon. B.J. Jones" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted by a jury of conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of a substance containing methamphetamine, possession of a firearm as a convicted felon, and obstruction of justice. On appeal, Defendant challenged several district court decisions that span from indictment through sentencing.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that because both the stop and the search of the Pontiac were supported by probable cause, the district court did not err in denying Defendant’s suppression motion. Moreover, Defendant offered nothing to suggest the government violated that order by making use of the suppressed documents or information gleaned from them at trial. Accordingly, the court discerned no abuse of discretion in the remedy crafted by the district court. The court explained that under the facts of this case, Defendant has failed to show that Section 1503(a) was unconstitutionally vague as applied to him.   Further, the court explained that the government also presented evidence that Defendant had knowledge of the firearm. The gun was recovered from inside a red drawstring bag in the Pontiac, and surveillance footage showed Defendant leaving a Walmart carrying the same distinctive red bag one hour before the Pontiac was stopped. Finally, the government presented evidence that Defendant, on occasion, traded methamphetamine for guns. Under these facts, a jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Milk knowingly possessed the firearm as charged. View "United States v. Wicahpe Milk" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reviewed a case for the second time regarding “whether a South Dakota tax on nonmember activity on the Flandreau Indian Reservation (the Reservation) in Moody County, South Dakota is preempted by federal law. On remand, and after a six-day video bench trial, the district court entered judgment in favor of the Tribe, concluding again that federal law preempts the imposition of the tax.   The Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court explained that in light of guideposts from the Supreme Court, even with the evidence that the district court heard at trial, the court cannot conclude that the federal regulation in IGRA regarding casino construction is extensive. The court reasoned that even with a more factually developed record than the court considered on summary judgment, the Bracker balancing test does not weigh in favor of preemption under IGRA because the extent of federal regulation over casino construction on tribal land is minimal, the impact of the excise tax on the tribal interests is minimal, and the State has a strong interest in raising revenue to provide essential government services to its citizens, including tribal members. The district court thus erroneously entered judgment in favor of the Tribe based on IGRA’s preemption of the excise tax. View "Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe v. Michael Houdyshell" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed after a jury convicted him of abusive sexual contact of a minor. Defendant contends the evidence was insufficient to establish the offense occurred in Indian Country, that the district court erred by admitting uncharged conduct as propensity evidence, and that the use of acquitted conduct to increase his sentence violated his constitutional rights.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained Major Crimes Act gives the federal government exclusive jurisdiction over certain crimes committed by an Indian within Indian Country, including abusive sexual contact. Here, the deputy superintendent of the trust for the BIA’s Yankton Agency with nearly 32 years of experience, testified that the tract was part of the Yankton Sioux Reservation in 2006. Accordingly, the court held that it would not disturb the conviction because the deputy’s testimony provided a reasonable basis for the jury to find the offense occurred in Indian Country. Further, the court wrote that in affording great weight to the district court’s balancing, it found no abuse of discretion in admitting the evidence under Rules 413 and 414. View "United States v. Frank Sanchez" on Justia Law

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Fisher was charged with conspiracy to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine and two counts of possession with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1); 846. The government filed notice that Fisher was subject to an enhanced sentence based on his prior conviction for first-degree burglary under Minnesota law, 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(A). Fisher pleaded guilty to one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine but objected to the enhanced sentence and requested sentencing credit for the time he served in tribal jail for a tribal court conviction based on the same conduct.The district court overruled Fisher’s objection to the sentence enhancement and denied Fisher’s request to credit his time served in tribal jail, reasoning that it did not have the authority to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum. The district court sentenced Fisher to 180 months’ imprisonment, the statutory minimum for a defendant with a “serious violent felony” conviction. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. While Minnesota’s statute is broader than the generic definition of burglary, it is divisible; applying the modified categorical approach, Fisher’s conviction for burglary with assault is a “serious violent felony.” Treating discharged and undischarged sentences differently does not violate the Due Process Clause. View "United States v. Fisher" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction of an action challenging provisions in the tribal constitution requiring nonresidents to return to the reservation to vote in tribal elections and prohibiting nonresidents from holding tribal office. The court explained that it has previously held that the Voting Rights Act does not apply to Indian tribes because they are not states or political subdivisions subject to the Act. The court concluded that the district court did not err in finding that the Indian Civil Rights Act does not contain a private right of action to seek injunctive or declaratory relief in federal court. In this case, plaintiff failed to allege that he intended to run for public office, and thus he lacked standing to challenge the Tribe's eligibility requirement for holding public office. View "Cross v. Fox" 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