Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation filed a complaint against Idaho state officials concerning the interpretation of the 1868 Treaty of Fort Bridger between the United States and several bands of the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes, including the Shoshone’s Northwestern Band. Under the Treaty, the affiliated Shoshone and Bannock Tribes ceded most of their territory to the United States. At the same time, the Tribes expressly reserved their right to hunt on unoccupied lands of the United States. Idaho officials contend that the Treaty conditions the reserved hunting right on permanent residence on a designated reservation and that Northwestern Band members may not exercise the Tribes’ treaty-reserved hunting right because the Northwest Band does not reside on a designated reservation. The district court agreed with Defendants’ treaty interpretation. The only issue on appeal is whether the district court erred in concluding that the Treaty makes the reserved hunting right contingent on permanent residence on the Fort Hall or Wind River Reservations.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment. The panel held that the Treaty’s terms, which must be read in context and construed as they would naturally be understood by the Tribes, plainly do not condition the exercise of the reserved hunting right on the Northwestern Band relocating to a reservation. Because the district court did not reach the Idaho officials’ alternative arguments regarding political cohesion and necessary joinder, the panel remanded the case for the district court to address those issues in the first instance. View "NORTHWESTERN BAND OF THE SHOSHONE NATION V. GREG WOOTEN, ET AL" on Justia Law

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This is the latest proceeding in a long-running case regarding Indian fishing rights in certain waters in Washington State. This proceeding was instituted by three Indian tribes who sought a ruling that the recognized fishing rights of the Lummi Nation (“the Lummi”) under the 1974 decree do not extend to certain areas. The current dispute centers on a single line in the decree recognizing that “the usual and accustomed fishing places” in which the Lummi have fishing rights “include the marine areas of Northern Puget Sound from the Fraser River south to the present environs of Seattle, and particularly Bellingham Bay.” (“Final Decision I”). The question is whether the specific waters in dispute here—namely, the sheltered waters east of Whidbey Island and south of Fidalgo Island—fall within the Lummi’s historical fishing territory.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Tulalip Tribes, and Upper Skagit Indian Tribe; dismissed as moot a cross-appeal filed by the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe (collectively, “S’Klallam”) from the district court’s grant of summary judgment; and dismissed as moot S’Klallam’s appeal of the district court’s denial of the S’Klallam’s motion for reconsideration. Applying the two-step inquiry, the panel concluded that the district court correctly held that the Swinomish, Tulalip, and Upper Skagit carried their burden to warrant a ruling, under Paragraph 25(a)(1) of the 1974 Decree, that Judge Boldt’s “determination of Lummi’s usual and accustomed fishing grounds and stations” did not extend to the disputed waters at issue here. View "SWINOMISH INDIAN TRIBAL CMTY., ET AL V. LUMMI NATION" on Justia Law

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This diversity suit involves personal injury and wrongful death claims arising from a collision between a sedan and a tour bus on a U.S. highway within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation reservation. Before trial, the district court held that Arizona law applies to the accident, and it therefore dismissed all claims based on Navajo law. At trial, the jury rejected all remaining claims asserted by the sedan’s surviving passengers and by the estate of the sedan’s driver, and the district court entered judgment in favor of the tour bus driver, the tour organizer, and other related corporations.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment in favor of Defendants to the extent that it dismissed all claims that had been asserted solely under Navajo law; reversed the district court’s judgment on the claims that were submitted for trial because the district court erroneously allowed the introduction of hearsay opinions of a non-testifying putative expert; and remanded for a new trial. The panel held that the district court abused its discretion in allowing, under the guise of impeachment evidence against Plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, Defendants’ counsel to elicit the opinions expressed in a police report prepared by the Arizona Department of Public Safety as to the cause of the accident. Next, the panel affirmed the district court’s conclusion that Arizona law applied and its resulting dismissal of all claims that were asserted only under Navajo law. View "JAMIEN JENSEN, ET AL V. EXC INCORPORATED, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Three Indian tribes sought a ruling that the recognized fishing rights of the Lummi Nation (“the Lummi”) under the 1974 decree do not extend to certain areas. At issue here is a single line in the decree recognizing that “the usual and accustomed fishing places” in which the Lummi have fishing rights “include the marine areas of Northern Puget Sound from the Fraser River south to the present environs of Seattle, and particularly Bellingham Bay.” The question is whether the specific waters in dispute here fall within the Lummi’s historical fishing territory. The district court ruled against the Lummi, holding that the disputed waters are not part of their historical fishing waters under the 1974 decree.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Applying the two-step inquiry, the panel concluded that the district court correctly held that the Swinomish, Tulalip, and Upper Skagit carried their burden to warrant a ruling, under Paragraph 25(a)(1) of the 1974 Decree, that Judge Boldt’s “determination of Lummi’s usual and accustomed fishing grounds and stations” did not extend to the disputed waters at issue here. The panel held that it was fundamentally ambiguous whether Judge Boldt and the parties in 1974 would have understood the marine areas of Northern Puget Sound from the Fraser River south to the present environs of Bellingham Bay, to include any waters east of Whidbey Island. At step two, the panel held that the Swinomish, Tulalip, and Upper Skagit met their burden to show that there was no evidence in the record before Judge Boldt of historical Lummi fishing in the disputed waters beyond what would be merely incidental or occasional. View "SWINOMISH INDIAN TRIBAL CMTY., ET AL V. LUMMI NATION" on Justia Law

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Disputes over the allocation of water within the Klamath Basin in southern Oregon and northern California, particularly during the recent period of severe and prolonged drought, have prompted many lawsuits in this and other courts. In this episode, Klamath Irrigation District (“KID”) petitions for a writ of mandamus to compel the district court to remand KID’s motion for preliminary injunction to the Klamath County Circuit Court in Oregon. The motion had originally been filed by KID in that Oregon court but was removed to federal district court by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (“Reclamation”), a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Interior. Reclamation was identified by KID as the respondent for KID’s motion.   The Ninth Circuit denied KID’s petition for writ of mandamus. The panel considered the five factors in Bauman v. U.S. District Court, 557 F.3d 813, 817 (9th Cir. 2004), in determining whether mandamus was warranted. The panel began with the third factor—clear error as a matter of law— because it was a necessary condition for granting the writ of mandamus. The panel rejected KID’s attempt to circumvent KID II, the Tribes’ rights, and the effect of the ESA by characterizing the relief it sought as an application of the ACFFOD. The panel expressed no views on the merits of KID’s underlying motion for preliminary injunction and concluded only that the district court did not err in declining to remand the motion for preliminary injunction to the state court. The panel held that it need not consider the remaining Bauman factors because the third factor was dispositive. View "IN RE: KLAMATH IRRIGATION DISTRICT V. USDC-ORM" on Justia Law

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The Upper Skagit Indian Tribe (the Upper Skagit tribe) claimed that the usual and accustomed fishing areas of the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe (the Sauk tribe) under a 1974 decision do not include the Skagit River, and therefore that decision did not authorize the Sauk tribe to open salmon fisheries on that river. The dispute, in this case, relates to the meaning of Finding of Fact 131 in Final Decision I, which defines the Sauk tribe’s U&As   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the Upper Skagit tribe. The court concluded that the district court intended to omit the Skagit River from the Sauk tribe’s usual and accustomed fishing areas. The panel agreed with the Upper Skagit tribe’s contention that Finding of Fact 131 clearly and unambiguously established Judge Boldt’s intent not to include the Skagit River in the Sauk tribe’s U&As. The panel held that if Judge Boldt intended to include the Skagit River in the U&As of the Sauk tribe, he would have used that specific term, as he did elsewhere. The panel held that the Lane Report, on which Judge Boldt heavily relied, reinforced its conclusion. The panel held that none of the statements undermined its conclusion that Judge Boldt’s intent was clear or showed that he intended to include the Skagit River in the U&As contrary to the plain text of Finding of Fact 131. View "UPPER SKAGIT INDIAN TRIBE, ET AL V. SAUK-SUIATTLE INDIAN TRIBE" on Justia Law

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The Tribes sued the State of California for its failure to comply with IGRA. In an earlier opinion (Chicken Ranch I), the panel ruled for the Tribes, first noting that California Government Code Section 98005 explicitly waived the state’s sovereign immunity from suit. The panel held that California violated IGRA by failing to negotiate in good faith a Class III gaming compact with the Tribes, and it ordered the district court to implement IGRA’s remedial framework. After prevailing, the Tribes sought attorneys’ fees spent litigating the Chicken Ranch I appeal.   The Ninth Circuit denied the request for attorneys’ fees. The panel held that because the Tribes prevailed on a federal cause of action, they were entitled to attorneys’ fees only if federal law allowed them. Because it did not, the panel denied the Tribes’ fee request. The panel rejected the Tribes’ argument that there is an exception authorizing attorneys’ fees in federal question cases when the claims implicate “substantial and significant issues of state law.” The panel distinguished Independent Living Center of Southern California, Inc. v. Kent, 909 F.3d 272 (9th Cir. 2018), in which there was no federal cause of action but there was federal question jurisdiction over a state-law claim that fell within a small category cases where a federal issue is necessarily raised, actually disputed, substantial, and capable of resolution in federal court without disturbing the federal-state balance approved by Congress. View "CHICKEN RANCH RANCHERIA, ET AL V. STATE OF CALIFORNIA, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Members of the Metlakatlan Indian Community (“the Community”) and their Tsimshian ancestors have inhabited the coast of the Pacific Northwest and fished in its waters. In 1891, Congress passed a statute (the “1891 Act”) recognizing the Community and establishing the Annette Islands Reserve as its reservation. In 2020, in response to Alaska’s attempt to subject the Metlakatlans to its limited entry program, the Community sued Alaskan officials in federal district court. The Community contended that the 1891 Act grants to the Community and its members the right to fish in the off-reservation waters where Community members have traditionally fished. The district court disagreed, holding that the Act provides no such right.   The Ninth Circuit filed (1) an order amending its opinion, denying a petition for panel rehearing, and denying a petition for rehearing en banc; and (2) an amended opinion reversing the district court’s dismissal of the Metlakatlan Indian Community’s suit against Alaskan officials. The panel applied the Indian canon of construction, which required it to construe the 1891 Act liberally in favor of the Community and to infer rights that supported the purpose of the reservation. At issue was the scope of that right. The panel concluded that a central purpose of the reservation, understood in light of the history of the Community, was that the Metlakatlans would continue to support themselves by fishing. The panel, therefore, held that the 1891 Act preserved for the Community and its members an implied right to non-exclusive off-reservation fishing for personal consumption and ceremonial purposes, as well as for commercial purposes. View "METLAKATLA INDIAN COMMUNITY V. MICHAEL DUNLEAVY, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The Washington State Health Care Authority (“HCA”) and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community petition for review of a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) decision denying Washington’s request to amend Apple Health, the Washington State Medicaid plan (the “State Plan”). HCA petitioned CMS to amend the State Plan to include dental health aide therapists (“DHATs”) on the list of licensed providers who can be reimbursed through Medicaid. CMS rejected the Amended State Plan on the basis that it violates the Medicaid free choice of providers statute and regulation guaranteeing all Medicaid beneficiaries equal access to qualified healthcare professionals willing to treat them. Petitioners challenged this denial.   The Ninth Circuit granted the petition of review. The panel rejected CMS’s reasoning on the ground that the underlying Washington statute—Wash. Rev. Code Section 70.350.020—did not violate Section 1396(a)(23) because it merely authorized where and how DHATs can practice and did not in any way restrict Medicaid recipients’ ability to obtain service from DHATs relative to non-Medicaid recipients. CMS’s rejection of the Amended State Plan was “not in accordance with law.” 5 U.S.C. Section 706(2)(A). Accordingly, the panel granted the petition for review and remanded to the agency with instructions to approve the Amended State Plan. View "WASHINGTON STATE HEALTH CARE A, ET AL V. CENTERS FOR MEDICARE & MEDICAI, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The City of Seattle/Seattle City Light1 (“Seattle”) owns and operates the Gorge Dam, which is part of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project (“Project”). Seattle operates the Project pursuant to a thirty-year license that was issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) in 1995. The Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe (“Tribe”) sued Seattle in Washington state court, alleging that Seattle’s operation of the Gorge Dam without fish passage facilities (“fishways”) violates certain federal and state laws. Seattle removed the case to federal court. The district court denied the Tribe’s motion to remand, finding that it had jurisdiction because the Tribe’s complaint raised substantial federal questions. The district court then granted Seattle’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Federal Power Act (“FPA”) and dismissed the complaint.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the SaukSuiattle Indian Tribe’s motion to remand to state court and the district court’s dismissal. affirmed the district court’s order denying the Tribe’s motion to remand the action to state court. The panel held that the City properly removed the action to federal court under 28 U.S.C. Section 1441(a) because the Tribe’s right to relief depended on resolution of a substantial question of federal law. Applying a four-part test, the panel concluded that the Tribe’s complaint necessarily raised federal issues because it expressly invoked federal laws, and it was uncontested that the federal issues were disputed. The panel also affirmed the district court’s dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the Tribe’s complaint was subject to section 313(b) of the Federal Power Act. View "SAUK-SUIATTLE INDIAN TRIBE V. CITY OF SEATTLE, ET AL" on Justia Law