Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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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

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's orders denying defendants' motion to set aside a default judgment and awarding attorney fees to plaintiffs in an action concerning governance of Newtok Village, a federally recognized Alaskan Native tribe. The panel held that subject matter jurisdiction has not been shown where plaintiffs' claims as pleaded simply do not arise under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. Nor is a substantial question of federal law present. The panel concluded that the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA), which confers jurisdiction on federal district courts to hear disputes regarding self-determination contracts, applies only to suits by Indian tribes or tribal organizations against the United States, and does not authorize an action by a tribe against tribal members. The panel explained that, as currently framed, this case does not arise under federal law and must therefore be dismissed without prejudice to permit amendment under a proper basis of federal jurisdiction. Furthermore, the district court did not have the power to award plaintiffs its attorney fees in the first instance. View "Newtok Village v. Patrick" on Justia Law

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Blue Lake, a federally-recognized Tribal Nation, sued Acres and his company in Tribal Court over a business dispute involving a casino gaming system. Acres prevailed in tribal court. Acres then brought suit in federal court against the tribal judge, tribal officials, employees, and casino executives and lawyers who assisted the tribal court, and Blue Lake’s outside lawyers, alleging malicious prosecution, with allegations under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1961. According to the complaint, “Blue Lake and its confederates sought ruinous judgments, within a court they controlled, before a judge they suborned, on conjured claims of fraud and breach of contract.” The district court concluded that tribal sovereign immunity shielded all of the defendants.The Ninth Circuit reversed in part, holding that tribal sovereign immunity did not apply because Acres sought damages from the defendants in their individual capacities; the Tribe was not the real party in interest. Some of the defendants were entitled to absolute personal immunity; the district court properly dismissed Acres’s claims against them on that basis. The Blue Lake judge, law clerks, and the tribal court clerk were entitled to absolute judicial or quasi-judicial immunity. The court remanded for further proceedings as to the remaining defendants not entitled to absolute personal immunity. View "Acres Bonusing, Inc. v. Marston" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs obtained short-term, high-interest loans from lenders owned by the Tribes. The standard loan contracts contained an agreement to arbitrate any dispute arising under the contract and a delegation provision requiring an arbitrator—not a court—to decide “any issue concerning the validity, enforceability, or scope of [the loan] agreement or [arbitration agreement].” The contracts stated that they were governed by tribal law and that an arbitrator must apply tribal law. Plaintiffs filed class-action RICO complaints against the Tribal Lenders. The district court denied the defendants’ motion to compel arbitration, reasoning that the arbitration agreement as a whole in each contract was unenforceable because it prospectively waived plaintiffs’ right to pursue federal statutory claims by requiring arbitrators to apply tribal law.The Ninth Circuit reversed. Rather than asking first whether the arbitration agreement was enforceable as a whole, the court must consider first the enforceability of the delegation provision specifically. The delegation provision was enforceable because it did not preclude plaintiffs from arguing to an arbitrator that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable under the prospective-waiver doctrine. The general enforceability issue must, therefore, be decided by an arbitrator. The choice-of-law provisions were not to the contrary because they did not prevent plaintiffs from pursuing their prospective-waiver enforcement challenge in arbitration. View "Brice v. Plain Green, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Snoqualmie Indian Tribe and the Samish Indian Nation have been disputing the Treaty of Point Elliott for decades. The Snoqualmie sought a declaration that it is a signatory to the Treaty and that its reserved off-reservation hunting and gathering rights under the Treaty continue. Prior litigation has involved fishing rights. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit on issue preclusion grounds. Prior appeals, 40 years ago, resolved that the Snoqualmie is not a treaty tribe under the Treaty. Treaty-tribe status is established when a group of Indians is “descended from a treaty signatory” and has “maintained an organized tribal structure.” The Snoqualmie Tribe, though descended from a treaty-signatory tribe, has not maintained an organized tribal structure and is not entitled to exercise rights under the Treaty because it lacks treaty-tribe status. View "Snoqualmie Indian Tribe v. Washingtonx" on Justia Law

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L.B. lived within the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. L.B. and her mother went to a bar and had alcoholic drinks. After they returned home, L.B.’s mother went for a drive. L.B. called the police and reported that her mother was driving while intoxicated. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Officer Bullcoming determined that L.B.’s mother was safe and then went to L.B.’s residence, where her children were asleep in the other room. L.B. admitted to consuming alcoholic drinks. Bullcoming threatened to arrest L.B. for child endangerment because she was intoxicated while in the presence of her children. L.B. pleaded with Bullcoming not to arrest her because she would lose her job as a school bus driver. Bullcoming took L.B. outside for a breathalyzer test. L.B. believed that her choices were to go to jail or have sex with Bullcoming. L.B. and Bullcoming had unprotected sexual intercourse. L.B. became pregnant as a result of the encounter and gave birth.L.B. brought a Federal Tort Claims Act suit, seeking to hold the government liable for Bullcoming’s misconduct. The government asserted that Bullcoming was not acting within the scope of his employment when he sexually assaulted L.B so his actions fell outside the scope of the FTCA’s limited waiver of sovereign immunity. The Ninth Circuit certified the question to the Montana Supreme Court: whether, under Montana law, OBullcoming’s sexual assault of L.B. was within the scope of his employment as a law enforcement officer. View "L. B. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) case brought by plaintiffs, alleging negligence by an emergency room physician. The physician treated Tyrone Sisto at the San Carlos Apache Healthcare Corporation hospital and failed to diagnose Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Plaintiffs claimed that the physician was an "employee of the United States" under the FTCA and the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA), 25 U.S.C. 5301 et seq., and that he negligently failed to diagnose the disease that led to Sisto's death.The panel agreed with the district court that the FTCA and section 5321(d) do not waive the United States' sovereign immunity with respect to claims based on the negligence of employees of independent contractors providing health care pursuant to a self-determination contract under the ISDEAA. Therefore, the panel concluded that the physician was an employee of T-EM rather than the hospital, and that the FTCA and section 5321(d) do not authorize a suit against the United States based on his alleged negligence. In this case, the physician had only a contract with T-EM and he was not an individual who provided health care services pursuant to a personal services contract with a tribal organization and was therefore not an employee of the Public Health Service under section 5321(d); because hospital privileges were not issued to the physician on the condition that he provide services covered by the FTCA, neither 25 U.S.C. 1680c(e)(1) nor 25 C.F.R. 900.199 confers FTCA coverage; and the hospital did not control the physician's actions in administering care to a degree or in a manner that rendered him an employee of the government when he treated Sisto. View "Sisto v. United States" on Justia Law

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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