Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
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The case involves Tony Lamonte Greene and Billie Wayne Byrd, who are incarcerated in an Oklahoma state prison. They, along with seven co-plaintiffs, filed actions in the Court of Federal Claims, arguing that their imprisonment is unlawful and seeking monetary compensation from the United States. They claim to be members of the Cherokee Nation and argue that under certain treaties between the Cherokee Nation and the United States, the State of Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction to prosecute and incarcerate them. They each seek $100 per day for unauthorized detention and more than $1,000,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.The Claims Court dismissed the plaintiffs’ actions for lack of jurisdiction. The court held that the plaintiffs failed to show that the treaties on which they relied gave rise to a personal right to monetary relief on their part in the event of a breach of the covenants relating to the exercise of civil and criminal jurisdiction within the Cherokee Nation. The court explained that claims based on treaties with Indian nations can fall within the jurisdiction of the Claims Court because they are treated as “a species of contract.” However, the court concluded that the treaties were not money-mandating.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the decision of the Claims Court. The court found that the treaty provisions the appellants relied upon are not money-mandating. The court also noted that the agreements addressed the respective rights of sovereignty of the two contracting parties; they did not create contract-based rights in individuals, the breach of which could give rise to monetary remedies for those individual complainants. The court concluded that the appellants’ claim does not fall within the reach of the Tucker Act, and therefore, the Claims Court lacked jurisdiction to address their demand for damages from the United States attributable to their prosecution and incarceration by the State of Oklahoma. View "GREENE v. US " on Justia Law

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The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation brought a suit against the United States, alleging various claims concerning water rights and water-related infrastructure. The Tribe claimed that the United States breached duties of trust by mismanaging water rights and infrastructure held by the United States and operated for the Tribe, breached contracts with the Tribe, and effected unconstitutional takings of the Tribe’s property. The Claims Court dismissed all the breach of trust claims, held that one breach of contract claim was barred by a 2012 settlement agreement, and found the remaining breach of contract and takings claims time barred.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed in part and vacated and remanded in part the Claims Court's decision. The Court of Appeals held that the Winters doctrine and the 1899 Act did not sufficiently establish trust duties to support Indian Tucker Act jurisdiction with respect to the Tribe’s claims that the United States has a duty to construct new infrastructure and secure new water for the Tribe. However, the Court found that the 1906 Act imposes trust duties on the United States sufficient to support a claim at least with respect to management of existing water infrastructure. The Court also affirmed the dismissal of one breach of contract claim, vacated and remanded another, and affirmed the dismissal of the takings claims. View "UTE INDIAN TRIBE OF THE UINTAH & OURAY INDIAN RESERVATION v. US" on Justia Law

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Congress established the Osage reservation in Oklahoma Territory in 1872. Years later, “mammoth reserves of oil and gas” were found. Congress severed the subsurface mineral estate, reserved it to the tribe, and placed it into trust with the federal government as trustee. Royalties are distributed to tribal members listed on an approved membership roll (a headright).In previous litigation, the Claims Court found the tribe had standing and found the government liable for breaching its fiduciary duties by failing to collect the full amount of royalties and failing to invest the royalty revenue. Individual headright owners (not the present plaintiffs) attempted to intervene. The Claims Court found that the individuals had no legal interest in the dispute because they were not a party to the trust relationship. The $380 million settlement agreement stated that the tribe, “on behalf of itself and the [h]eadright [h]olders,” waived any claims relating to the tribe’s trust assets or resources that were based on violations occurring before September 30, 2011. In a federal suit, filed by individual headright owners, the Tenth Circuit held that headright owners had a trust relationship with the federal government, which was ordered to provide an accounting.In 2019, based on allegations that the accounting revealed mismanagement of the trust fund, headright owners filed the present suit under the Tucker Act and the Indian Tucker Act, citing breach of statutorily imposed trust obligations. The Federal Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit. A trust relationship exists between the headright owners and the government and the 1906 Act imposes an obligation on the federal government to distribute funds to headright owners in a timely and proper manner. View "Fletcher v. United States" on Justia Law

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Under the Arizona-Florida Land Exchange Act (AFLEA), 102 Stat. 4571, 72 acres of the Phoenix Indian School Property were conveyed to Collier in exchange for Collier’s Florida lands plus $34.9 million. The Arizona InterTribal Trust Fund (AITF) was established for the benefit of ITCA-member Arizona tribes for “the cash amount required to be paid . . . by Collier upon closing.” In 1991, over ITCA's objections, the Secretary of the Interior agreed to allow Collier to make annual payments rather than full payment at closing. For several years, the Government released its liens on the Phoenix property. In 2013, Collier stated its intent to “no longer make payments” because the value of the remaining 15-acre Phoenix Property had decreased. Under a 2017 settlement agreement, Collier paid $16 million to the Government, which then sold the 15-acre Property for $18.5 million. ITCA sued, alleging that the Government breached its AFLEA fiduciary duties.The Claims Court dismissed in part. The Federal Circuit reversed in part. The Claims Court erred in dismissing the failure-to-maintain-sufficient-security portion of Claim I but properly dismissed the portion of that claim regarding the Government’s alleged failure to ensure adequate security when it negotiated the TFPA. The court properly dismissed Claim II, which alleged that the AFLEA “required the [Government] to collect from Collier all Trust Fund Payments required under the [AFLEA], and that the [Government’s] failure to collect all of the payments is a breach of trust.” View "Inter-tribal Council of Arizona v. United States" on Justia Law

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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