Justia Native American Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, et al.
The Pueblo of Jemez filed a quiet title action against the United States relating to lands comprising the Valles Caldera National Preserve (“Valles Caldera”), which the United States purchased from private landowners in 2000. In an earlier appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the district court’s ruling dismissing the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court reversed and remanded, finding that an 1860 federal grant of title to private landowners would not extinguish the Jemez Pueblo’s claimed aboriginal title. Upon remand, the Jemez Pueblo could establish that it once and still had aboriginal title to the lands at issue. After a twenty-one-day trial, the district court ruled that the Jemez Pueblo failed to establish ever having aboriginal title to the entire lands of the Valles Caldera, failing to show that it ever used the entire claimed land to the exclusion of other Indian groups. The Jemez Pueblo moved for reconsideration under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). But rather than seek reconsideration of its complaint’s QTA claim to the entire Valles Caldera, the Jemez Pueblo shrunk its QTA claim into claims of title to four discrete subareas within the Valles Caldera: (1) Banco Bonito, (2) the Paramount Shrine Lands, (3) Valle San Antonio, and (4) the Redondo Meadows. The district court declined to reconsider all but Banco Bonito, on grounds that the Jemez Pueblo hadn’t earlier provided the government notice of these claims. Even so, being thorough, the court later considered and rejected those three claims on the merits. Of the issues raised by the Jemez Pueblo on appeal, we primarily address its challenge to the district court’s ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erroneously interpreted "Jemez I" in ruling that the Jemez Pueblo lost aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. So in accordance with longstanding Supreme Court precedent, and by the district court’s findings, the Court held the Jemez Pueblo still had aboriginal title to Banco Bonito. The Court reversed in part the denial of the Jemez Pueblo’s motion for reconsideration, and vacated in part and remanded with instructions to the district court. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Pueblo of Jemez v. United States, et al." on Justia Law
United States v. Slinkard
In 2011, defendant-appellant Joshua Slinkard pleaded guilty in Oklahoma state court to child sex abuse, lewd molestation, and possession of child pornography. The state court sentenced him to 30 years in prison. But in May 2021 the State vacated Slinkard’s conviction for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, pursuant to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, 140 S. Ct. 2452 (2020). Slinkard was then indicted in federal district court on two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a minor in Indian country, and one count of possession of child pornography. He pleaded guilty on all three counts without the benefit of a plea bargain. After adopting the factual recitations of the PSR and confirming Slinkard’s advisory guideline sentence, the district court recited the sentencing factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) and offered defense counsel the opportunity to be heard on the application of those factors in Slinkard’s case. Defense counsel asked the court to consider an oral motion for a downward variance based in part on Slinkard having already served 12 years in state prison. The government requested a life sentence. The court stated it would not vary from the advisory guideline for sentencing. The court then asked Slinkard if he wished to make a statement, but he declined. After the government made a statement on behalf of the victim, the court imposed a sentence of two terms of life in prison and one term of 240 months, all to run concurrently. In his single issue on appeal, Slinkard contended the district court plainly erred when it conclusively announced his sentence before permitting him to allocute. To this, the Tenth Circuit concurred: the court’s pre-allocution statement was a definitive announcement of sentence, in violation of Fed. R. Crim. P. 32(i)(4)(A)(ii) and Tenth Circuit precedent. The sentence was vacated and the matter remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Slinkard" on Justia Law
United States v. Polk
Defendant-appellant Conner Polk appealed his four-year prison sentence under the Assimilative Crimes Act (ACA), 18 U.S.C. § 13, for committing a state-law offense on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma. Polk argued the district court should have considered imposing a shorter prison term under an Oklahoma statute that permitted a departure from a mandatory minimum sentence in certain circumstances. Because this state law conflicted with federal sentencing policy, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the district court properly declined to apply it. The Court, therefore, affirmed Polk’s sentence. View "United States v. Polk" on Justia Law
Northern Arapaho Tribe v. Becerra, et al.
The Northern Arapaho Tribe and the Indian Health Service (IHS) entered into a contract under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act for the Tribe to operate a federal healthcare program. Under the contract, the Tribe provided healthcare services to Indians and other eligible beneficiaries. In exchange, the Tribe was entitled to receive reimbursements from IHS for certain categories of expenditures, including “contract support costs.” The contract anticipates that the Tribe will bill third-party insurers such as Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers. The Tribe contended that overhead costs associated with setting up and administering this third-party billing infrastructure, as well as the administrative costs associated with recirculating the third-party revenue it received, qualified as reimbursable contract support costs under the Self-Determination Act and the Tribe’s agreement with the IHS. But when the Tribe attempted to collect those reimbursements, IHS disagreed and refused to pay. Contending it had been shortchanged, the Tribe sued the government. The district court, agreeing with the government’s reading of the Self-Determination Act and the contract, granted the government’s motion to dismiss. A divided panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals voted to reverse (for different reasons). Under either of the jurists' interpretations, the administrative expenditures associated with collecting and expending revenue obtained from third-party insurers qualified as reimbursable contract support costs. View "Northern Arapaho Tribe v. Becerra, et al." on Justia Law
Pacheco v. El Habti
Petitioner-appellant Delila Pacheco was convicted in Oklahoma of first-degree child-abuse murder. She petitioned for relief to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, filing an application under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. While her application was pending, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decided Murphy v. Royal, 875 F.3d 896 (10th Cir. 2017), holding that a large portion of the State of Oklahoma was “Indian country” for purposes of the Major Crimes Act, which provided for exclusive federal jurisdiction over certain enumerated crimes committed by Indians in “Indian country.” Pacheco, an Indian found to have committed a serious crime at a location since determined to be on an Indian reservation, sought to amend her application to assert a claim that the state courts lacked jurisdiction over the offense. The district court denied the request to amend on the ground that the new claim was time-barred. The Tenth Circuit granted a certificate of appealability (COA) on this issue. Pacheco argued on appeal: (1) that the time bar to her jurisdictional claim should be excused under the actual-innocence exception; and, alternatively, (2) that the statute of limitations reset when the Supreme Court declared the underlying law in McGirt v. Oklahoma, 140 S. Ct. 2452 (2020), rendering timely her request to amend. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court, finding Pacheco’s jurisdictional argument did not show actual innocence, and McGirt did not announce a new constitutional right. View "Pacheco v. El Habti" on Justia Law
United States v. Wells
Defendant-appellant David Wells brutally assaulted his wife, V.W. A grand jury issued an indictment charging Wells with committing: (1) aggravated sexual abuse in “Indian country;” (2) assault with the intent to commit aggravated sexual abuse in Indian country; (3) assault resulting in serious bodily injury in Indian country; and (4) assault with a dangerous weapon in Indian country. After a petit jury convicted Wells on all four counts, the district court sentenced him to a lengthy term of incarceration. Wells appealed, challenging his convictions and sentence. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined none of Wells’s challenges to his conviction were meritorious. At sentencing, however, the district court erred in adjusting upward Wells’s total offense level on the basis Wells obstructed justice when he violated an order directing that he have no contact with V.W. The Tenth Circuit remanded the matter to the district court for the narrow purpose of vacating Wells’s sentence and conducting any further necessary proceeding with regard to the section 3C1.1 obstruction-of-justice adjustment. View "United States v. Wells" on Justia Law
Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah v. McKee, et al.
This case arose from a long-running irrigation-water dispute between Plaintiff Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation and Defendant Gregory McKee, who was not a member of the Tribe. Defendant owned non-Indian fee land within the Ute reservation’s exterior boundaries and used water from two irrigation canals flowing through his property. Plaintiff claimed the water belonged to the United States in trust for the Tribe. Plaintiff sued Defendant in the Ute tribal court, alleging that Defendant had been diverting the Tribe’s water for years, and won. Plaintiff then petitioned the district court to recognize and enforce the tribal-court judgment. But the district court dismissed the case after holding that the tribal court lacked jurisdiction to enter its judgment. Because the Tenth Circuit also concluded the tribal court lacked jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s dispute with a nonmember of the Tribe arising on non-Indian fee lands, it affirmed. View "Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah v. McKee, et al." on Justia Law
Chegup, et al. v. Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah, et al.
The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation (“the Tribe”) temporarily banished Angelita Chegup, Tara Amboh, Mary Jenkins, and Lynda Kozlowicz (“the banished members”). The banished members did not challenge their temporary banishment in a tribal forum, but instead sought relief in federal court by filing a petition for habeas corpus. The banished members contended that, because they were excluded from the reservation by virtue of their banishment, they were “detained” within the meaning of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 (“ICRA”). The district court disagreed and dismissed the suit without considering the Tribe’s alternative position: that the court could not consider the claims at all because the banished members failed to exhaust their tribal remedies. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concurred with the district court: "Even though tribal exhaustion is non-jurisdictional, and courts may often choose between threshold grounds for denying relief, we think that under the unique circumstances of this case there was a right choice." Because the district court neither began its analysis with tribal exhaustion nor reached that issue in the alternative, the Tenth Circuit remanded for it to be decided in the first instance. View "Chegup, et al. v. Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah, et al." on Justia Law
Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah, et al. v. Lawrence, et al.
At issue in this appeal was a contract dispute between Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation (the Tribe) and Lynn Becker, a non-Indian. The contract concerned Becker’s work marketing and developing the Tribe’s mineral resources on the Ute reservation. Becker sued the Tribe in Utah state court for allegedly breaching the contract by failing to pay him a percentage of certain revenue the Tribe received from its mineral holdings. Later, the Tribe filed this lawsuit, challenging the state court’s subject-matter jurisdiction under federal law. The district court denied the Tribe’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the state-court proceedings, and the Tribe appealed. After its review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding the Tribe was entitled to injunctive relief. The appellate court found the trial court’s factual findings established that Becker’s state-court claims arose on the reservation because no substantial part of the conduct supporting them occurred elsewhere. And because the claims arose on the reservation, the state court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction absent congressional authorization. Accordingly, under the particular circumstances of this appeal, the Tenth Circuit "close[d] this chapter in Becker’s dispute with the Tribe by ordering the district court to permanently enjoin the state-court proceedings." View "Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah, et al. v. Lawrence, et al." on Justia Law
United States v. Burtrum
Appellant Wilkie Bill Burtrum was found guilty of one count of aggravated sexual abuse and one count of sexual abuse in Indian country. Because Burtrum had previously been convicted of aggravated sexual abuse in Indian country, the district court sentenced him to mandatory life imprisonment on the first count pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 3559(e). The court sentenced him to 360 months on the second count. And it ordered Burtrum to pay the victim $5,850 in restitution for the equivalent of a year-and-a-half of weekly equine therapy sessions. Appealing, Burtrum argue his aggravated sexual abuse conviction was supported by insufficient evidence, his mandatory life sentence was unconstitutional, and a portion of the restitution award was not reasonably certain or supported by sufficient evidence. After review, the Tenth Circuit held: (1) the aggravated sexual abuse conviction was supported by sufficient evidence; (2) the mandatory life sentence was constitutional; and (3) the restitution award was a reasonably certain estimate supported by evidence. Therefore, judgment was affirmed. View "United States v. Burtrum" on Justia Law