Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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Texas, Indiana, and Louisiana, and seven individuals seeking to adopt Indian children filed suit against the United States, several federal agencies and officials, and five intervening Tribes, raising facial constitutional challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) and statutory and constitutional challenges to the 2016 administrative rule (the Final Rule) that was promulgated by the Department of the Interior to clarify provisions of ICWA. The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiffs had standing to bring all claims; the ICWA and the Final Rule are constitutional because they are based on a political classification that is rationally related to the fulfillment of Congress's unique obligation toward Indians; ICWA preempts conflicting state laws and does not violate the Tenth Amendment anticommandeering doctrine; and ICWA and the Final Rule do not violate the nondelegation doctrine. The court also held that the Final Rule implementing the ICWA is valid because the ICWA is constitutional, the BIA did not exceed its authority when it issued the Final Rule, and the agency's interpretation of ICWA section 1915 is reasonable. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and rendered judgment in favor of defendants on all claims. View "Brackeen v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by the Tribe, seeking to enforce a tribal court judgment against nonmembers. At issue was whether the grant of federal question jurisdiction in 28 U.S.C. 1331 encompasses an action to recognize and enforce a tribal court's award against nonmembers of the tribe. The panel held that inherent in the recognition of a tribal court's judgment against a nonmember is a question regarding the extent of the powers reserved to the tribe under federal law. The panel held that actions seeking to enforce a tribal judgment against nonmembers raised a substantial question of federal law, and thus the district court had federal question jurisdiction under section 1331 in this case. View "Coeur D'Alene Tribe v. Hawks" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged one of the FCC's orders paring some regulatory requirements for the construction of wireless facilities. The Order exempted most small cell construction from two kinds of previously required review: historic-preservation review under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Furthermore, the Order effectively reduced Tribes' role in reviewing proposed construction of macrocell towers and other wireless facilities that remain subject to cultural and environmental review. The DC Circuit granted the petitions in part because the Order did not justify the Commission's determination that it was not in the public interest to require review of small cell deployments. In this case, the Commission did not adequately address possible harms of deregulation and benefits of environmental and historic-preservation review pursuant to its public interest authority under 47 U.S.C. 319(d). Therefore, the Order's deregulation of small cells was arbitrary and capricious. The court denied the petitions for review on the remaining claims. View "United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma v. FCC" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order refusing to compel the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs to place the Aqua Caliente Tribe of Cupeño Indians on a list of federally recognized tribes published in the Federal Register. The panel held that the Tribe failed to exhaust the regulatory process under 25 C.F.R. 83 to obtain federal recognition. Instead, the Tribe argued that the Part 83 process did not apply because they sought "correction" of the list, not recognition. However, the panel held that framing the issue as one of "correction" was unsupported by the applicable regulations and case law. In regard to the Tribe's equal protection and Administrative Procedure Act claims, the panel held that Interior had a rational basis for not making an exception to the Part 83 process for the Tribe. The panel concluded that it was rational for the Interior to ask the Tribe to demonstrate through the Part 83 process how they are a "distinct Community" from the Pala Band of Mission Indians and "politically autonomous" so that Interior may make the federal-recognition determination, and Interior's explanation for treating the Tribe differently from other tribes passed muster. View "Agua Caliente Tribe of Cupeño Indians of the Pala Reservation v. Sweeney" on Justia Law

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Suits over oil and gas leases on allotted trust lands are governed by federal law, not tribal law, and the tribal court lacks jurisdiction over the nonmember oil and gas companies. This appeal involved a dispute over the practice of flaring natural gas from oil wells, and at issue was the scope of Native American tribal court authority over nonmembers. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction enjoining the tribal court plaintiffs and tribal court judicial officials and held that the district court correctly rejected the tribal court officials' argument that this suit was barred by tribal sovereign immunity. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the preliminary injunction because the oil and gas companies are likely to prevail on the merits. In this case, the district court correctly concluded that the oil and gas companies exhausted their tribal court remedies by moving to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction and appealing the issue to the MHA Nation Supreme Court; the district court correctly concluded that the tribal court lacked jurisdiction over the oil and gas companies; and the balance of the remaining preliminary injunction factors, along with the oil and gas companies' strong likelihood of success on the merits, showed that the district court did not abuse its discretion by granting the preliminary injunction. View "Kodiak Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. v. Burr" on Justia Law

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Six Native American plaintiffs filed suit challenging portions of North Dakota's election statutes, requiring a voter to present a specific form of identification at the polls before receiving a ballot. The district court enjoined the Secretary from enforcing certain statutory requirements statewide. The Eighth Circuit held that at least one of the plaintiffs had standing to raise a facial challenge to the statute. On the merits, the court held that plaintiffs' facial challenge to the residential street address requirement likely fails, and that the statewide injunction as to that provision cannot be justified as a form of as-applied relief; the statute's requirement to present an enumerated form of identification does not impose a burden on voters that justifies a statewide injunction to accept additional forms of identification; and the record is insufficient to justify enjoining the Secretary from enforcing the supplemental documents provision statewide. Accordingly, the court vacated the preliminary injunction and remanded for further proceedings. View "Brakebill v. Jaeger" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by a coalition of tribal, regional, and national conservation organizations who sued the government and others, challenging agency actions that reauthorized coal mining activities on land reserved to the Navajo Nation. The panel held that NTEC was a legally protected interest in the subject matter of this litigation, and that proceeding with the suit in NTEC's absence impaired that interest. Because no other party to the litigation could adequately represent NTEC's interests, the panel held that the district court did not err by determining that NTEC was a party that must be joined if feasible under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19(a). Furthermore, the district court properly concluded that NTEC was an "arm" of the Navajo Nation that enjoyed the Nation's immunity from suit and could not be joined to this action. The panel applied the Rule 19(b) factors and held that the district court did not err in concluding that the litigation could not, in good conscience, continue in NTEC's absence. Finally, the panel rejected the request to apply the public rights exception. View "Dine Citizens Against Ruining our Environment v. Bureau of Indian Affairs" on Justia Law

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The Moodys leased Pine Ridge Indian Reservation parcels for agriculture. The government has a trust responsibility for Indian agricultural lands, 25 U.S.C. 3701(2). The Secretary of the Interior is authorized to participate in the management of such lands, with the participation of the beneficial owners and has delegated some responsibilities to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). BIA regulations generally allow Indian landowners to enter into agricultural leases with BIA approval. Each Moody lease defined “the Indian or Indians” as the “LESSOR.” The Claims Court concluded that the Oglala Sioux Tribe signed the leases. Other lease provisions distinguished between the lease parties and the Secretary of the Interior/United States. Issues arose in 2012. The BIA sent letters canceling the leases, noting that the Moodys could appeal the decision to the Regional Director. Within the 30-day appeal period, the Moodys returned with a cashier’s check in the proper amount, which the BIA accepted. The BIA informed the Moodys that they need not appeal, could continue farming, and did not require written confirmation. Subsequently, the Moodys received trespass notices and were instructed to vacate, which they did. The Moodys did not appeal within the BIA but sued the government. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal of the written contract claims for lack of jurisdiction because the government was not a party to the leases, for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because the Moodys did not have implied-in-fact contracts with the government, and for failure to raise a cognizable takings claim because their claim was based on the government’s alleged violation of applicable regulations. View "Moody v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2012, the Navajo Nation and several of its individual members sued San Juan County, Utah alleging that the election districts for both the school board and the county commission violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. The district court denied the county’s motion to dismiss, found that the election districts violated the Equal Protection Clause, and awarded summary judgment to the Navajo Nation. It later rejected the county’s proposed remedial redistricting plan because it concluded the redrawn districts again violated the Equal Protection Clause. The district court then appointed a special master to develop a proposed remedial redistricting plan, directed the county to adopt that remedial plan, and ordered the county to hold special elections based on that plan in November 2018. On appeal, the county challenged each of the district court’s decisions. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Navajo Nation v. San Juan County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, individually and on behalf of her minor children and mother, filed suit against the Commissioner, the County, two tribal courts, and related tribal judges, contesting the tribal court's jurisdiction over the children's child custody proceedings. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint, holding that there was no conflict between the Indian Child Welfare Manual's requirement that local social service agencies refer child custody proceedings involving Indian children to tribal social service agencies for proceedings in tribal court, and the Indian Child Welfare Act's recognition of exclusive or presumptive tribal jurisdiction for child custody proceedings involving Indian children. Section 1911(b) of the Act addresses the transfer of proceedings from state court to tribal court and, in this case, there were no state court proceedings. Furthermore, the tribal court's jurisdiction over the children was consistent with Public Law 280. Finally, the court held that plaintiffs have presented no evidence of a due process violation. View "Watso v. Lourey" on Justia Law