Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (“ISDA”) allowed tribes to run their own healthcare programs, funded by Indian Health Services (“IHS”) in the amount IHS would have spent on a tribe’s health care. Because it was too expensive for the tribes to run the programs, Congress enacted a fix by requiring IHS to provide tribes with CSC—the amount of money a tribe would need to administer its healthcare programs. In addition, Congress allowed the tribes to bill outside insurers directly, and allowed tribes to keep the third-party revenue without diminishing their IHS grants, so long as tribes spent that revenue on health care.The Tribe contends that the IHS must cover those additional CSC. The Tribe filed suit to recover the CSC for program years 2011-2013. The Ninth Circuit held that the text of the governing statute, 25 U.S.C. Sec. 5325(a), compelled reversal and remand for additional proceedings. View "SAN CARLOS APACHE TRIBE V. XAVIER BECERRA, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation have a cross-deputization agreement with the State of Montana under which the Tribes have agreed to commission state police to act as tribal police where there is a gap between their respective criminal jurisdictions. Defendant challenges the validity of the cross-deputization agreement, arguing that the Tribes lack the inherent sovereign authority to enter into a cross-deputization agreement with the State of Montana.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence. The panel emphasized that the cross-deputization agreement deputizes state officers to enforce tribal law, not state law, and emphasized that Congress has expressly provided for the Tribes’ authority to enter into such compacts.   Defendant also argued that the Tribes explicitly conditioned the cross-deputization agreement on federal approval, which they did not receive. The panel did not read the agreement’s use of the word “approve” as giving the Bureau of Indian Affairs veto power over the agreement.   The panel wrote that even if the lack of a signature from the BIA representative on the 2003 amendment to the agreement impaired the validity of the amendment, it would not invalidate the trooper’s commissioned status. The panel wrote that the trooper’s failure to carry an identification card was plainly a violation of the agreement.  The panel noted, however, that none of the sovereign parties to the agreement appears to consider the violation sufficiently serious to seek any remedy for it. View "USA V. ERIC FOWLER" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal, for failure to state a claim, of the Metlakatlan Indian Community’s suit against Alaskan officials, claiming that an 1891 statute granted the Community and its members the right to fish in the off-reservation waters where they had traditionally fished and that they, therefore, were not subject to an Alaska statute’s limited entry program for commercial fishing in waters designated as Districts 1 and 2.   The panel held that the 1891 Act also granted to the Community and its members a nonexclusive right to fish in the off-reservation waters where they had traditionally fished. 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. 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, within Alaska’s Districts 1 and 2, which encompassed waters included in the traditional fishing grounds of the Metlakatlans. View "METLAKATLA INDIAN COMMUNITY V. MICHAEL DUNLEAVY, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The Chickasaw Nation, a sovereign and federally recognized Indian tribe, operates its own healthcare system, which includes five pharmacies. Under federal law, members of federally recognized Native nations are eligible to receive healthcare services at the nations’ facilities at no charge, and a nation may recoup the cost of services that it provides to a tribal member from that member’s health insurance plan. Caremark is the pharmacy benefit manager for health insurance plans that cover many tribal members served by the Chickasaw Nation’s pharmacies. The Nation signed agreements with Caremark. Each of these agreements incorporated by reference a Provider Agreement and a Provider Manual. The Provider Manual included an arbitration provision with a delegation clause requiring the arbitrator, rather than the courts, to resolve threshold issues about the scope and enforceability of the arbitration provision. The Nation sued Caremark, claiming violations of 25 U.S.C. Section 1621e, a provision of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act referred to as the “Recovery Act.”   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order granting the petition to compel arbitration. The court rejected the Nation’s argument that it did not actually form contracts with Caremark that included arbitration provisions with delegation clauses. The court concluded that the premise of the Nation’s argument— that an arbitration agreement always and necessarily waives tribal sovereign immunity—was incorrect. Rather, the arbitration agreement simply designated a forum for resolving disputes for which immunity was waived. View "CAREMARK, LLC V. CHICKASAW NATION" on Justia Law

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A 2014 act of Congress requires the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to convey Oak Flat to a mining company. In exchange, the mining company was to convey a series of nearby plots of land to the United States (the “Land Exchange”).Plaintiff, a nonprofit organization advocating on behalf of Apache American Indians, sued the government, alleging that the Land Exchange violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), the Free Exercise Clause, and the 1852 Treaty of Santa Fe. The district court denied Plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction and Plainitff appealed.On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that, although the government's action was burdensome, it did not create a "substantial burden" under the RFRA. Next, the court held that the Plaintiff's Free-Exercise claim failed because the Land Exchange was neutral in that its object was not to infringe upon the Apache’s religious practices. Finally, the court held that Plaintiff could not establish that the Treaty of Santa Fe imposes an enforceable trust obligation on the United States. Thus, the court affirmed the district court’s order denying Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction. View "APACHE STRONGHOLD V. USA" on Justia Law

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In a series of appeals concerning a business lease which Defendant Wapato Heritage, LLC, once held on waterfront land within the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington State, the Ninth Circuit affirmed (1) the district court’s dismissal of Wapato Heritage cross-claims against the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs; and (2) the district court’s denial of Wapato Heritage’s motion to intervene in a trespass damages trial between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other parties. The district court dismissed Wapato Heritage’s cross-claims against the Tribes and the BIA because of tribal sovereign immunity, lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and failure to state a claim   The court explained the instances where tribal participation in litigation will constitute a waiver of tribal sovereign immunity must be viewed as very limited exceptions to the general rule that preserves tribal sovereign immunity absent an unequivocal expression of waiver in clear terms. Here, the Tribes did not waive their sovereign immunity to Wapato Heritage’s cross-claims as to the 2009 and 2014 replacement leases. The Tribes invoked their immunity from suit in two Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) motions to dismiss Wapato Heritage’s cross-claims for lack of jurisdiction, which was granted. The Tribes retained their sovereign immunity to the cross-claims, and the district court did not need to rule on the claims’ merits. The court rejected Wapato Heritage’s contention that the appeal did not relate to Indian Trust land, finding that MA-8 was still Indian allotment land held in trust by the BIA. View "PAUL GRONDAL V. USA" on Justia Law

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CashCall made unsecured, high-interest loans to consumers throughout the country, and sought to avoid state usury and licensing laws by using an entity operating on an Indian reservation. The entity issued loan agreements that contained a choice-of-law provision calling for the application of tribal law. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau brought an action alleging that the scheme was an “unfair, deceptive, or abusive act or abusive practice.” 12 U.S.C. Section 5536(a)(1)(B). The district court held that CashCall violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act (“CFPA”).   The court first considered whether the Bureau lacked authority to bring this action because it was unconstitutionally structured. The court found despite the unconstitutional limitation on the President’s authority to remove the Bureau’s Director, the Director’s actions were valid when they were taken. Both the complaint and the notice of appeal were filed while the Bureau was headed by a lawfully appointed Director. The court declined to consider CashCall’s new theory that the Bureau’s structure violated the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution.   Next, the court held that the Tribe had no substantial relationship to the transactions, and because there was no other reasonable basis for the parties’ choice of tribal law, the district court correctly declined to give effect to the choice-of-law provision in the loan agreements. The court concluded that from September 2013, the danger that CashCall’s conduct violated the CFPA was so obvious that CashCall must have been aware of it. The court vacated the civil penalty and remanded with instructions that the district court reassess it. View "CFPB V. CASHCALL, INC." on Justia Law

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The Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation (“Sycuan” or “Tribe”), a federally recognized Indian tribe, sought the reversal of the district court’s order granting labor union, Unite Here Local 30’s (“Unite Here”), motion for judgment on the pleadings with respect to its own complaint and motion to dismiss Sycuan’s counterclaim. Unite Here alleged that Sycuan violated the labor provisions of a contract between the two parties respecting the operation of a casino. The union brought suit to compel arbitration of that dispute pursuant to a clause contained in the contract. Sycuan opposed arbitration.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment on the pleadings in favor of Unite Here and the district court’s dismissal of a counterclaim brought by Sycuan. The court held the district court had original jurisdiction over Unite Here’s claims. Further, the court held that the district court had supplemental, but not original, jurisdiction over Sycuan’s counterclaim because the Declaratory Judgment Act does not confer jurisdiction, and Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act could not confer federal question jurisdiction.   The court concluded that the arbitrator should decide issues of contract validity, and the counterclaim rested on an issue of contract validity. Accordingly, the district court’s declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction served economy, convenience, and fairness. The court also held that Unite Here and Sycuan formed an agreement to arbitrate because Sycuan promised California that if any union made certain promises to the tribe, Sycuan would automatically enter into a bilateral contract with that union adopting the TLRO’s terms. View "UNITE HERE LOCAL 30 V. SYCUAN BAND" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's dismissal based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction of plaintiff's complaint against the Tribe and various individual defendants. Plaintiff alleged that the Tribe, its officers, and members improperly ordered his banishment based on his purported attempt to import alcohol into the City of Togiak, Alaska, and that, in the course of enforcing the banishment order, defendants detained plaintiff in the municipal jail and forced him to board an airplane destined for another city in Alaska.The panel affirmed in part and held that tribal sovereign immunity deprived the district court of subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims alleged exclusively against the Tribe. Furthermore, the panel affirmed the district court's order dismissing claims against the tribal judicial officers on immunity grounds. However, the panel reversed in part and remanded for the district court to fully consider plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims as to individual defendants in their individual capacities; whether plaintiff is entitled to prospective injunctive relief against individual defendants; and plaintiff's individual tort claims against the individual defendants. Finally, the panel directed the district court to consider whether plaintiff should be granted leave to amend to cure any pleading deficiencies related to his claims. View "Oertwich v. Traditional Village of Togiak" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the Bureau of Indian Affair's (BIA) motion for summary judgment and ejectment order in an action brought by a group of recreational vehicle owners seeking to retain their rights to remain on a lakeside RV park located on American Indian land held in trust by the Bureau.The panel concluded that the Moses Allotment Number 8 (MA-8) land remains held in trust by the United States, and the BIA, as holder of legal title to the land, had and has standing to bring its claim for trespass and ejectment. In this case, of the three transactions and trust extensions in MA-8's history that Mill Bay and Wapato Heritage challenge, none were legally deficient. The panel rejected Mill Bay's argument that the IAs and the BIA are precluded under res judicata from ejecting Mill Bay, and rejected Mill Bay's interpretation of Paragraph 8 of the Master Lease: Paragraph 8 does not apply when the Lease expires by the passage of time, as happened here. Finally, the panel concluded that United States v. City of Tacoma, 332 F.3d 574 (9th Cir. 2003), which holds that the United States is not subject to equitable estoppel when it acts in its sovereign capacity as trustee for Indian land, is not distinguishable and that Mill Bay is barred from asserting its defense of equitable estoppel against the BIA. View "Grondal v. United States" on Justia Law