Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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In cases consolidated for review, the issue presented for the Tenth Circuit centered on whether the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acted beyond its statutory authority when it promulgated a regulation, 43 C.F.R. sec. 3162.3-3 (2015), governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on lands owned or held in trust by the United States. The district court invalidated this regulation as exceeding the BLM’s statutory authority. While these appeals were pending, a new President of the United States was elected, and shortly thereafter, at the President’s direction, the BLM began the process of rescinding the Fracking Regulation. Given these changed and changing circumstances, the Tenth Circuit concluded these appeals were unripe for review. As a result, the Court dismissed these appeals and remanded with directions to vacate the district court’s opinion and dismiss the action without prejudice. View "Wyoming v. Zinke" on Justia Law

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This case presented a question of whether a large-scale excavation project constituted “mining” under the pertinent federal regulations that address mineral development on Indian land. When an entity engages in “mining” of minerals owned by the Osage Nation, a federally approved lease must be obtained from the tribe. The Osage Mineral Council (OMC), acting on behalf of the Osage Nation, appealed the award of summary judgment to Defendant Osage Wind, LLC (Osage Wind), arguing that Osage Wind engaged in “mining” without procuring a federally approved mineral lease. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has defined “mining” as the “science, technique, and business of mineral development[.]” The Tenth Circuit held the term “mineral development” had a broad meaning, including commercial mineral extractions and offsite relocations, but also encompass action upon the extracted minerals for the purpose of exploiting the minerals themselves on site. The Court held Osage Wind’s extraction, sorting, crushing, and use of minerals as part of its excavation work constituted “mineral development,” thereby requiring a federally approved lease which Osage Wind failed to obtain. Accordingly, the Court reversed the award of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Osage Wind" on Justia Law

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The contract at issue in this appeal was an Independent Contractor Agreement (the Contract) between the Ute Indian Tribe and Lynn Becker, a former manager in the Tribe’s Energy and Minerals Department. Becker claimed the Tribe breached the Contract by failing to pay him 2% of net revenue distributed to Ute Energy Holdings, LLC from Ute Energy, LLC. After Becker filed suit in Utah state court, the Tribe filed this suit against him and Judge Barry Lawrence, the state judge presiding over Becker’s suit, seeking declarations that: (1) the state court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the dispute; (2) the Contract was void under federal and tribal law; and (3) there was no valid waiver of the Tribe’s sovereign immunity for the claims asserted in state court. The Tribe also sought a preliminary injunction ordering defendants to refrain from further action in the state court proceedings. The federal district court held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the Tribe’s challenge to the jurisdiction of the state court. The Tenth Circuit disagreed with the district court, and reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The Court held that the Tribe’s claim that federal law precluded state-court jurisdiction over a claim against Indians arising on the reservation presented a federal question that sustained federal jurisdiction. View "Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah v. Lawrence" on Justia Law

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The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation appealed a preliminary injunction ordering it not to proceed with litigation in tribal court against a nonmember former contractor, Lynn Becker. The district court ruled that although the parties’ dispute would ordinarily come within the tribal court’s jurisdiction, their Independent Contractor Agreement (the Contract) waived the Tribe’s right to litigate in that forum. The Tribe argued: (1) the tribal-exhaustion rule, which ordinarily requires a federal court to abstain from determining the jurisdiction of a tribal court until the tribal court has ruled on its own jurisdiction, deprived the district court of jurisdiction to determine the tribal court’s jurisdiction; and (2) even if exhaustion was not required, the preliminary injunction was improper because the Contract did not waive the Tribe’s right to litigate this dispute in tribal court. In addition, the Tribe challenged the district court’s dismissal of its claims under the federal civil-rights act, 42 U.S.C. 1983, seeking to halt state-court litigation between it and Becker. The Tenth Circuit did not agree the tribal-exhaustion rule was jurisdictional, but agreed the district court should have abstained on the issue. Although the Contract contained a waiver of the tribal-exhaustion rule, Becker could not show a likelihood of success based on the validity of the waiver; he failed to adequately counter the Tribe’s contention that the entire Contract, including the waiver, was void because it did not receive federal-government approval, as was required for contracts transferring property held in trust for the Tribe by the federal government. With respect to the Tribe’s claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Tenth Circuit found the Tribe has not stated a claim because it is not a “person” entitled to relief under that statute when it is seeking, as here, to vindicate only a sovereign interest. To resolve the remaining issues raised in this case, the Court adopted its decision in the companion case of Ute Indian Tribe v. Lawrence, No. 16-4154 (August 25, 2017). View "Becker v. Ute Indian Tribe" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted Patrick Murphy of murder in Oklahoma state court and imposed the death penalty. In August 1999, Murphy lived with Patsy Jacobs; Jacobs was previously in a relationship with the victim, George Jacobs. Murphy had an argument with her about George, and said he was “going to get” George Jacobs and his family. A passerby found George Jacobs in a ditch with his face bloodied and slashes across his chest and stomach. His genitals had been cut off and his throat slit. Murphy allegedly confessed the killing to Ms. Jacobs, and he was later arrested and tried. On appeal, Murphy asserted he was tried in the wrong court: he challenged the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma state court in which he was convicted and sentenced, contending he should have been tried in federal court because he was an Indian and the offense occurred in Indian country. To this point, the Tenth Circuit agreed and remanded to the district court to issue a writ of habeas corpus vacating his conviction and sentence. The question of whether the state court had jurisdiction was straightforward but reaching an answer was not. Parsing the issue involved review of: (1) federal habeas corpus review of state court decisions; (2) Indian country jurisdiction generally; (3) Indian reservations specifically; and (4) how a reservation can be disestablished or diminished. In this case, the Oklahoma court applied a rule that was contrary to clearly established Supreme Court law. Congress has not disestablished the Creek Reservation; the crime in this case occurred in Indian country; Murphy was an Indian and because the crime occurred in Indian country, the federal court has exclusive jurisdiction. Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction. The Tenth Circuit therefore reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded with instructions to grant Murphy’s application for a writ of habeas corpus. View "Murphy v. Royal" on Justia Law

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Consolidated appeals arose from a government agency’s decision to recapture via administrative offset funds that the agency allegedly overpaid to multiple grant recipients. The grant recipients filed suit arguing in relevant part that the agency lacked authority to recapture the funds without first providing them with administrative hearings. The district court agreed and ordered the agency to repay the grant recipients. The agency appealed that order. The issues the appeal raised for the Tenth Circuit's review were: (1) did the agency recapture the funds pursuant to a statute or regulation that imposed a hearing requirement, thus rendering the recaptures illegal; (2) if the agency didn’t recapture the funds pursuant to such a statute or regulation, did it have authority to recapture the alleged overpayments at all; and (3) if not, must the agency reimburse the grant recipients for the amounts it illegally collected? The Court found the agency didn’t recapture the funds pursuant to a statute or regulation that imposes a hearing requirement, therefore, the district court erred in ruling that the recipients were entitled to hearings before the agency could recapture the alleged overpayments. Two members of the panel agreed the agency lacked authority to recapture the funds via administrative offset, and the Court affirmed the portion of the district court’s order that characterized the recaptures as illegal. The two other members of the panel agreed that if the agency no longer had the recaptured funds in its possession, then the district court lacked authority to order the agency to repay the recipients. Thus, the Court reversed that portion of the district court’s order and remanded for further factual findings. View "Modoc Lassen Indian Housing v. DOHUD" on Justia Law

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The district court sentenced Defendant David Magnan, a Native American, to three life terms after a jury convicted him of murdering three people in Indian Country. Defendant shot Lucilla McGirt twice and left her to die, paralyzed from the chest down, as part of an execution-style slaying during which he shot four individuals. McGirt died, but not before she identified Defendant as her assailant. On three separate occasions ranging from approximately two to five hours after the shooting, three people heard McGirt identify Defendant as the man who shot her. At trial, these three individuals testified to McGirt’s respective statements over Defendant’s hearsay objections. Defendant appealed, arguing the district court abused its discretion in ruling McGirt’s statements constituted excited utterances admissible under Rule 803(2) of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Magnan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants Pueblo of Pojoaque appealed a district court’s dismissal of its claim for declaratory and injunctive relief based on the New Mexico’s alleged unlawful interference with Class III gaming operations on the Pueblo’s lands. In July 2005, the Pueblo and New Mexico executed a Class III gaming compact pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”) that allowed it to operate casino-style gaming on its lands. Prior to the expiration of the compact, the New Mexico Gaming Control Board (“the Gaming Board”) sought to perform its annual compliance review of the Pueblo’s gaming operations. The Pueblo complied on June 24; on June 30, 2015, the compact expired at midnight. The Gaming Board announced that despite the U.S. Attorney’s decision allowing the Pueblo’s gaming operations to continue pending the review, the Pueblo’s casinos were operating illegally due to the absence of a compact, and it placed in abeyance approval of any license application or renewal for vendors who did business with the Pueblo. The Pueblo commenced this action, asserting in part that New Mexico failed to conduct compact negotiations in good faith in violation of IGRA and that individual defendants conspired under the color of state law to “deprive the federal right of the Pueblo and its members to be free of state jurisdiction over activities that occur on the Pueblo lands.” The Pueblo sought an injunction, contending that the Gaming Board’s actions were an impermissible attempt to assert jurisdiction over gaming operations on tribal lands, despite the termination of New Mexico’s jurisdiction over such activities upon the expiration of the compact. The district court entered final judgment, stayed the effects of the preliminary injunction, and issued an indicative ruling that it would vacate or dissolve the preliminary injunction on remand. The Pueblo sought to stay the district court’s judgment and restore the preliminary injunction. The district court declined to do so, but the Tenth Circuit extended a temporary injunction against the State mirroring the preliminary injunction entered by the district court. On appeal, the Pueblo argued the district court did not have jurisdiction to proceed to the merits given the interlocutory appeal of the preliminary injunction and, even if it did, it erred in concluding that IGRA did not preempt New Mexico’s regulatory action. The Tenth Circuit found the text of IGRA clearly evinced congressional intent that Class III gaming would not occur in the absence of a compact, and no such compact existed. Accordingly, conflict preemption also does not apply. For similar reasons, the Court rejected the Pueblo’s argument that the Gaming Board’s determination as to the unlawful nature of the Pueblo’s gaming activities was an improper assertion of jurisdiction preempted by IGRA. Because the Pueblo’s gaming activities are not conducted pursuant to a compact or an alternative mechanism permitted under IGRA, the Pueblo’s present gaming is unlawful under federal law, and the State’s conclusion to this effect was not an exercise of jurisdiction that IGRA preempts. View "Pueblo of Pojoaque v. New Mexico" on Justia Law

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“Custody does not automatically render [every] exchange an interrogation,” and the Tenth Circuit determined that certain statements defendant Gavin Yepa made while “tired, intoxicated and under tremendous emotional stress” were not the result of police interrogation warranting suppression. Defendant was convicted by a jury of first-degree felony murder in the perpetration of aggravated sexual abuse in Indian country. The sole issue on appeal was whether self-incriminating statements by defendant during a search of his person authorized by a warrant were spontaneous or were the result of interrogation. After a review of the circumstances of the statements, the Tenth Circuit found the district court did not clearly err in finding defendant’s statements were spontaneous and not by virtue of police interrogation. View "United States v. Yepa" on Justia Law

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This matter arose from the death of Todd Murray, a Ute tribal member, following a police pursuit on the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation. Murray’s parents, his estate, and the Ute Indian Tribe (the “Tribal Plaintiffs”) sued the officers involved in Ute Tribal Court for wrongful death, trespass, and other torts. The officers then filed suit in federal court against the Tribe, its Business Committee, the Tribal Court, the Acting Chief Judge of the Tribal Court, and the other Tribal Plaintiffs. The district court enjoined the Tribal Court action, holding that Nevada v. Hicks, 533 U.S. 353 (2001), barred tribal civil jurisdiction over the officers, making exhaustion of tribal court remedies unnecessary. It further determined that certain defendants were not entitled to tribal sovereign immunity. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erred in excusing the officers from exhaustion of tribal remedies with respect to the Tribe’s trespass claim; that claim at least arguably implicates the Tribe’s core sovereign rights to exclude and to self-govern. The Court further concluded this claim was not barred by Hicks. However, the Court agreed the remaining Tribal Court claims were not subject to tribal jurisdiction and thus exhaustion was unnecessary. The Court reversed the district court’s denial of tribal sovereign immunity as to the Tribe, its Business Committee, and the Tribal Court. View "Norton v. Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah" on Justia Law