Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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