Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
“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

by
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

by
In response to a request from the Quapaw Tribe, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) Acting General Counsel issued a legal opinion letter stating that the Tribe’s Kansas trust land was eligible for gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The State of Kansas and the Board of County Commissioners of the County of Cherokee, Kansas, filed suit, arguing that the letter was arbitrary, capricious, and erroneous as a matter of law. The district court concluded that the letter did not constitute reviewable final agency action under IGRA or the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). The Tenth Circuit affirmed: the IGRA’s text, statutory scheme, legislative history, and attendant regulations demonstrated congressional intent to preclude judicial review of legal opinion letters. Further, the Acting General Counsel’s letter does not constitute final agency action under the APA because it did not determine any rights or obligations or produced legal consequences. In short, the letter merely expresses an advisory, non-binding opinion, without any legal effect on the status quo ante. View "Kansas v. National Indian Gaming Comm'n" on Justia Law