Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
by
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for PGE and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon in a citizen suit brought by DRA, alleging that PGE was operating the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project (the Project) in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA).The panel agreed with the district court that the Tribe was a required party, but disagreed on the question of the Tribe's sovereign immunity. The panel held that the CWA did not abrogate the Tribe's immunity and that the suit should have been dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19. The panel concluded that the inclusion of "an Indian tribe" in the definition of "municipality" (and, in turn, in the definition of "person") does not indicate—let alone clearly indicate—that Congress intended in the CWA to subject tribes to unconsented suits. The panel agreed with the district court that the Tribe is a required party because it has a legally protected interest in the subject of the suit that may be impaired by proceedings conducted in its absence. Therefore, the Tribe's sovereign immunity requires dismissal of this suit, in which DRA challenges the operation of a large hydroelectric project co-owned and co-operated by the Tribe, and located partly on the Tribe's reservation. The panel did not reach the question of whether PGE and the Tribe violated the CWA. The panel remanded with instructions to vacate the judgment and to dismiss the suit for failure to join the Tribe. View "Deschutes River Alliance v. Portland General Electric Co." on Justia Law

by
California cigarette tax regulations apply to inter-tribal sales of cigarettes by a federally chartered tribal corporation wholly owned by a federally recognized Indian tribe.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by Big Sandy, a chartered tribal corporation wholly owned and controlled by the Big Sandy Rancheria of Western Mono Indians, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the Attorney General of California and the Director of the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration regarding taxes applied to inter-tribal sales of cigarettes.The panel concluded that the district court properly dismissed the Corporation's fifth cause of action on jurisdictional grounds pursuant to the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. 1341, and properly declined to apply the Indian tribes exception to the Tax Injunction Act's jurisdictional bar. The panel also concluded that the district court properly dismissed the Corporation's remaining causes of action challenging the Directory Statute and California's licensing, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements in connection with cigarette distribution. In this case, the Corporation challenged the Directory Law on two grounds: (1) applying the challenged regulations to the Corporation's cigarette sales to tribal retailers on other reservations violates "principles of Indian tribal self-governance;" and (ii) federal regulation of "trade with Indians within Indian country" under the Indian Trader Statutes preempts the challenged regulations as applied to the Corporation's intertribal wholesale cigarette business. The panel concluded that the district court properly dismissed both theories for failure to state a claim. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the district court's dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. View "Big Sandy Rancheria Enterprises v. Bonta" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's holding, following a bench trial, that the Yakama Reservation includes a 121,465.69-acre tract (Tract D) that partially overlaps with Klickitat County. The present dispute between the Yakamas and Klickitat County arose when the County attempted to prosecute P.T.S., a minor and enrolled Yakama member, for acts that occurred within Tract D. Contending that Klickitat County lacked jurisdiction to prosecute P.T.S. for an incident that took place within Tract D, the Yakamas filed suit against the County, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.Under the highly deferential clear error standard, the panel upheld the district court's findings that the spur described in the Treaty does not exist and that the Yakamas understood the Treaty to include Tract D within the Reservation's boundaries. Applying de novo review, the panel concluded that the Treaty language is inherently ambiguous. Consequently, in light of the Indian canon of construction, the panel agreed with the district court's interpretation that the Treaty included Tract D within the Reservation. Finally, the panel held that Congress did not conclusively exclude Tract D from the Reservation through the 1904 Act. View "Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation v. Klickitat County" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of the DOI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, federal officials, and the Spokane Tribe of Indians, in an action brought by the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, challenging the Secretary of DOI's decision determining that the Spokane Tribe of Indians' proposed gaming establishment on newly acquired off-reservation land would not be detrimental to the surrounding community. Kalispel raised challenges pursuant to the the Administrative Procedure Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.The panel held that IGRA requires the Secretary to weigh and consider the various interests of those within the surrounding community when deciding whether additional off-reservation gaming would be detrimental to the surrounding community. A showing that additional gaming may be detrimental to some members of the surrounding community, including an Indian tribe, does not dictate the outcome of the Secretary's two-step determination. The panel agreed with the DC Circuit and rejected Kalispel's argument that any detriment to Kalispel precluded the Secretary from issuing a favorable two-part determination. Rather, the panel concluded that the Secretary had the authority to issue a two-step determination, and the Secretary's decision to issue a favorable decision here was neither arbitrary nor capricious. The panel declined to reach the merits of Kalispel's contention, which was not advanced in the district court, that the Secretary previously announced a policy that additional off-reservation gaming would not be approved if a nearby Indian tribe could show that additional gaming would be detrimental to it. Finally, the panel concluded that Kalispel has not shown that the Secretary failed to consider its claimed harms or to comply with the relevant statutes and regulations, and thus it has not shown that the Secretary violated the federal government's trust duty owed to Kalispel. View "Kalispel Tribe of Indians v. U.S. Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal, based on lack of jurisdiction, of Navajo Nation's breach of trust claim alleging that Federal Appellees failed to consider the Nation's as-yet-undetermined water rights in managing the Colorado River. Several states intervened to protect their interests in the Colorado's waters.The panel concluded that the district court erred in dismissing the complaint because, in contrast to the district court's determination, the amendment was not futile. The panel explained that, although the Supreme Court retained original jurisdiction over water rights claims to the Colorado River in Arizona I, the Nation's complaint does not seek a judicial quantification of rights to the River, so the panel need not decide whether the Supreme Court's retained jurisdiction is exclusive. Furthermore, contrary to the Intervenors' arguments on appeal, the Nation's claim is not barred by res judicata, despite the federal government's representation of the Nation in Arizona I. Finally, the panel concluded that the district court erred in denying the Nation's motion to amend and in dismissing the Nation's complaint. In this case, the complaint properly stated a breach of trust claim premised on the Nation's treaties with the United States and the Nation's federally reserved Winters rights, especially when considered along with the Federal Appellees' pervasive control over the Colorado River. Accordingly, the panel remanded with instructions to permit the Nation to amend its complaint. View "Navajo Nation v. U.S. Department of the Interior" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit filed: (1) an order amending its opinion, denying a petition for panel rehearing, and denying on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc; and (2) an amended opinion reversing the district court's dismissal for lack of standing of a tribal health organization's action seeking declaratory relief regarding alleged violations of a federal law concerning the provision of health services to Alaska Natives.The panel concluded that SCF alleges an injury in fact in two distinct ways: first, that ANTHC infringed SCF's governance and participation rights under Section 325 of the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 1998 by delegating the full authority of the fifteen-member Board to the five-person Executive Committee; and second, that ANTHC erected informational barriers in the Code of Conduct and Disclosure Policy that deprived SCF of its ability to exercise effectively its governance and participation rights. View "Southcentral Foundation v. Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium" on Justia Law

by
In late August 2020, Yazzie initiated an action challenging Arizona's Receipt Deadline pursuant to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution, and the Arizona Constitution's election clause. The complaint alleges that Navajo Nation reservation residents face myriad challenges to voting by mail where many on-reservation members do not have home mail service. Rather, to receive or send mail, they must travel to a post office. Furthermore, socioeconomic factors, educational disadvantages, and language barriers make both the travel to the post office—which requires access to a car—and the completion of mail ballots difficult. Yazzie also claims that these mail ballots take disproportionately longer to reach the county recorder's office because of the slower mail service on the reservation. In late September 2020, the district court denied Yazzie's motion for preliminary injunction based on its finding that Yazzie did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits or raise serious questions going to the merits of Yazzie's VRA claim.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Yazzie's request for a preliminary injunction. The panel did not address the district court's analysis of the VRA claim because it concluded that Yazzie and the other plaintiffs lack standing. The panel stated that not only does Yazzie fail to make a clear showing of a concrete and particularized injury, noticeably absent in the record is any particularized allegation with respect to any of the six individual plaintiffs. The panel also stated that, importantly, this case is not a putative class action filed on behalf of the Navajo Nation members who reside on the reservation. In this case, Yazzie failed to establish injury-in-fact for at least one of the individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The panel concluded that also missing is a clear showing that the alleged injury is redressable by a favorable decision by this court. View "Yazzie v. Hobbs" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal for lack of standing of a tribal health organization's action seeking declaratory relief regarding alleged violations of a federal law concerning the provision of health services to Alaska Natives. The panel held that SCF alleges an injury in fact sufficient to confer Article III standing in two distinct ways: first, that ANTHC infringed SCF's governance and participation rights under Section 325 of the Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 1998 by delegating the full authority of the fifteen-member Board to the five-person Executive Committee; and second, that ANTHC erected informational barriers in the Code of Conduct and Disclosure Policy that deprived SCF of its ability to exercise effectively its governance and participation rights. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Southcentral Foundation v. Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal for failure to join a required party in an action challenging the Jamul Indian Village's efforts to build a casino. The panel held that the distinction JAC urges between historic tribes and other tribal entities organized under the Indian Reorganization Act is without basis in federal law. The panel held that Jamul Indian Village is a federally recognized Indian tribe with the same privileges and immunities, including tribal sovereign immunity, that other federally recognized Indian tribes possess. Therefore, the Village's tribal sovereign immunity extends to its officers in this case. Because the Village is protected by tribal sovereign immunity, the panel agreed with the district court that the Village cannot be joined in this action and that the action cannot proceed in equity and good conscience without it. View "Jamul Action Committee v. Simermeyer" on Justia Law

by
Nanouk uses her 160-acre Alaska Native allotment for traditional subsistence activities. In the 1980s, Nanouk built a small cabin, which she and her family reached by using a trail that runs from the main road through the U.S. Air Force North River Radio Relay Station, which closed in 1978. In 1981, the General Accounting Office criticized the Air Force’s failure to maintain shuttered sites, including North River, which contained hazardous chemicals. The Air Force and the Army Corps of Engineers began remediation, removing 500 gallons of transformer oil containing PCBs and PCB-contaminated soil. Surveys taken in 1987 and 1989 revealed that 6,700 cubic yards of contaminated soil remained. The Air Force and the Corps released a new plan in 2001; clean-up resumed. The trail that Nanouk used ran through a “hot spot” where PCB-contaminated soil was picked up by her vehicles. Nanouk did not learn about the PCBs on her property until 2003 when she reported a strong chemical odor. The Air Force then undertook extensive environmental remediation at the Station and Nanouk’s allotment. Nanouk sued, alleging trespass and nuisance. She and several family members have experienced serious health problems.The Ninth Circuit vacated the dismissal of her suit. The Federal Tort Claims Act's discretionary exception barred claims predicated on two of the acts she challenged as negligent--the government’s alleged failure to supervise contractors during the Station’s operation, and its abandonment of the property between the 1978 closure and 1990. The government did not establish that the exception barred the claims relating to the failure to identify and remediate the hot spot in a timely manner after 1990. View "Nanouk v. United States" on Justia Law