Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
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The Klamath River Basin Reclamation Project straddles the Oregon-California border and provides water to hundreds of farms. The Project is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation. In 2001, the Bureau temporarily halted water delivery to farms and water districts in order to comply with its tribal trust obligations under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1531. Plaintiffs alleged that action amounted to a taking without compensation, impaired their rights under the Klamath River Basin Compact, and caused the breach of water delivery contracts. The Claims Court rejected the suit on summary judgment. On remand, the Claims Court dismissed the breach of contract claims, determined that the takings claims should be analyzed as “physical takings,” and held a trial. The districts had been voluntarily dismissed as plaintiffs. As to the individual farmers, the Claims Court held that the Bureau’s actions did not amount to a taking and did not violate the Compact because the rights reserved for tribal fishing were superior. The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding the plaintiffs’ state water rights subordinate to the federal tribal rights, which were recognized in an 1864 treaty. The Bureau acted reasonably to preserve water levels necessary to avoid endangering fish. View "Baley v. United States" on Justia Law

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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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The Missouri River overlies the western boundary of South Dakota's Crow Creek Indian Reservation, established in 1863. Under the Supreme Court’s 1908 “Winters” decision, the creation of a Reservation carries an implied right to unappropriated water “to the extent needed to accomplish the purpose of the reservation.” The Tribe possesses “Winters rights.” The Tribe sued, seeking $200 million in damages for the taking of its water rights. The complaint notes the federal Pick-Sloan flood control project on the River, with construction of the Fort Randall and Big Bend Dams; a 1996 statute that established a trust fund for the Tribe, funded with $27.5 million in hydroelectric-power revenue from Pick-Sloan; a 2012 settlement between the Tribe and the government, unrelated to water rights; and the generally poor economic prospects of the Reservation; it alleged that the government breached its fiduciary duty to “[a]ppropriately manag[e] the natural resources" of the Reservation, 25 U.S.C. 162a(d)(8). The complaint did not allege that the government’s actions deprived the Tribe of sufficient water to fulfill the reservation’s purposes or that those actions would cause the Tribe to lack sufficient water in the future. The Claims Court dismissed, stating that the complaint did not suggest that the Tribe is experiencing a water shortage and that it could not identify an injury "that has yet occurred.” The Federal Circuit affirmed, concluding that the Tribe failed to even allege that it has suffered the requisite injury in fact. View "Crow Creek Sioux Tribe v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1999, Native American farmers sued, alleging that the USDA had discriminated against them with respect to farm loans and other benefits. The court certified a class, including LaBatte, a farmer and member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe. Under a settlement, the government would provide a $680 million compensation fund. The Track A claims process was limited to claimants seeking standard payments of $50,000. Track A did not require proof of discrimination. Under Track B, a claimant could seek up to $250,000 by establishing that his treatment by USDA was "less favorable than that accorded a specifically identified, similarly situated white farmer(s),” which could be established “by a credible sworn statement based on personal knowledge by an individual who is not a member of the Claimant’s family.” A "Neutral" would review the record without a hearing; there was no appeal of the decision. LaBatte's Track B claim identified two individuals who had personal knowledge of the USDA’s treatment of similarly-situated white farmers. Both worked for the government's Bureau of Indian Affairs. Before LaBatte could finalize their declarations, the government directed the two not to sign the declarations. The Neutral denied LaBatte’s claim. The Claims Court affirmed the dismissal of LaBatte’s appeal, acknowledging that it had jurisdiction over breach of settlement claims, but concluding that it lacked jurisdiction over LaBatte’s case because LaBatte had, in the Track B process, waived his right to judicial review to challenge the breach of the agreement. The Federal Circuit reversed. There is no language in the agreement that suggests that breach of the agreement would not give rise to a new cause of action. View "LaBatte v. United States" on Justia Law

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Allergan’s Restasis Patents relate to a treatment for alleviating the symptoms of chronic dry eye. In 2015, Allergan sued, alleging infringement of the Restasis Patents based on Mylan’s filings of Abbreviated New Drug Applications. Mylan, Teva, and Akorn sought inter partes review of the patents. The Patent Board instituted IPR and scheduled a consolidated oral hearing. Before the hearing, Allergan and the Tribe entered into an agreement Mylan alleges was intended to protect the patents from review. A patent assignment transferring the Restasis patents from Allergan to the Tribe was recorded with the Patent Office. The Tribe moved to terminate the IPRs, arguing it is entitled to assert tribal sovereign immunity; Allergan moved to withdraw. The Board denied both motions. The Federal Circuit affirmed. IPR is neither clearly a judicial proceeding instituted by a private party nor clearly an enforcement action brought by the federal government: tribal sovereign immunity may not be asserted in IPR proceedings. View "Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe v. Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc." on Justia Law

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Under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA), 25 U.S.C. 4101–4243, tribes receive direct funding to provide affordable housing to their members. Grants are based on factors including “[t]he number of low-income housing dwelling units . . . owned or operated” by the tribes on NAHASDA’s effective date. Grantees are limited in how and when they may dispense the funds. The Tribes received NAHASDA block grants. In 2001, a HUD Inspector General report concluded that HUD had improperly allocated their funds because the formula applied by HUD had included housing that did not qualify. HUD provided the Tribes with the opportunity to dispute HUD’s findings, then eliminated the ineligible units from the data and deducted the amount overfunded from subsequent allocations. The Tribes brought suit under the Tucker Act and Indian Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1) and 1505. The Claims Court held that NAHASDA is money mandating, but that the failure to give a hearing alone did not support an illegal exaction claim. Because the finding that NAHASDA is money-mandating was dispositive concerning jurisdiction, the government filed an interlocutory appeal. The Federal Circuit vacated and ordered dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.The underlying claim is not for presently due money damages but is for larger strings-attached NAHASDA grants—including subsequent supervision and adjustment—and, therefore, for equitable relief. NAHASDA does not authorize a free and clear transfer of money. View "Lummi Tribe v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Wyandot Nation of Kansas, a Native American tribe allegedly tracing its ancestry to the Historic Wyandot Nation, claims to be a federally recognized Indian tribe and a successor-in-interest to treaties between the Historic Wyandot Nation and the United States. Wyandot Nation filed suit, alleging that the government had breached its trust and fiduciary obligations with respect to trusts that resulted from those treaties, including one related to amounts payable under an 1867 treaty and one related to the Huron Cemetery. The Court of Federal Claims dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and standing. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Tribal recognition is within the primary jurisdiction of the Department of Interior; a court cannot independently make a determination of the effects of the various treaties or resolve the various conflicting legal and factual contentions. Wyandot Nation petitioned the Department of Interior in 1996 for federal recognition pursuant to the List Act regulations. Interior preliminarily determined that “the Wyandot Nation of Kansas, which consists of the descendants of the citizen Wyandotts of Kansas terminated in 1855, [does not qualify for] Federal acknowledgment through the administrative process and can only become a Federally recognized Indian Tribe by an act of Congress.” The Nation did not pursue further administrative or judicial review. View "Wyandot Nation of Kansas v. United States" on Justia Law