Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

by
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

by
These appeals stemmed from an Independent Contractor Agreement (the Agreement) entered into by the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation (the Tribe) and a non-Indian, Lynn Becker. Becker alleged the Tribe breached the Agreement and owed him a substantial amount of money under the terms of the Agreement. The Tribe disputed Becker’s allegations and asserted a host of defenses, including, in part, that the Agreement was void both because it was never approved by the Department of the Interior and because it purported to afford Becker an interest in Tribal trust property. The dispute between Becker and the Tribe over the Agreement spawned five separate lawsuits in three separate court systems. Before the Tenth Circuit were two appeals filed by the Tribe challenging interlocutory decisions issued by the district court in Becker’s most recent federal action, including a decision by the district court to preliminarily enjoin the Tribal Court proceedings and to preclude the Tribal Court’s orders from having preclusive effect in other proceedings. The Tenth Circuit concluded the tribal exhaustion rule required Becker’s federal lawsuit to be dismissed without prejudice. Consequently, the Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision preliminarily enjoining the parties from proceeding in the Tribal Court action and enjoining the Tribal Court’s orders having preclusive effect in other proceedings. The case was remanded to the district court with directions to dismiss Becker’s federal lawsuit without prejudice. View "Becker v. Ute Indian Tribe, et al." on Justia Law

by
Gerald Magnant and John Davis were each charged with violating MCL 205.428(3) of the Michigan Tobacco Products Tax Act (the TPTA), for transporting 3,000 or more cigarettes without the transporter’s license required by MCL 205.423(1). Defendants were nonsupervisory employees of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC). Michigan State Police pulled over a KBIC-owned pickup truck for speeding. Davis was driving, and consented to a search of a utility trailer, representing to the trooper that it contained “supplies” and “chips.” The trailer actually contained 56 cases holding over 600,000 “Seneca” cigarettes marked with KBIC stamps but not with the Michigan Department of Treasury tax stamps required by the TPTA. Magnant was a passenger, and admitted he helped load the trailer. The parties stipulated that Davis, Magnant, and the KBIC were not licensed to transport tobacco products under the TPTA. Defendants jointly moved to dismiss the charges, arguing that the relevant statutes were unconstitutionally vague because they did not give individual employees, as opposed to businesses, adequate notice that they were subject to the TPTA licensing requirement for transporting cigarettes. A circuit court denied the motion, holding that the language of the TPTA provided adequate notice that an “individual” can be a “transporter” subject to the licensing requirement. The Michigan Supreme Court held that an individual acting as a “transporter” need not have specific awareness of the law that creates the licensing requirement; a conviction for violating MCL 205.428(3) must, at a minimum, be supported by a showing that the individual (1) knew he or she was transporting a regulated amount of cigarettes and (2) knew of facts that conferred “transporter” status upon him or her. In this case, however, the prosecution failed to present any evidence establishing or implying that defendants were aware of facts that conferred transporter status on them. Judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and defendants' joint motion to quash a bindover decision was granted. View "Michigan v. Magant" on Justia Law

by
The Nation and some of its officials filed suit against the Village of Union Springs and certain of its officials, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) preempts the Village's ordinance regulating gambling as applied to the Nation's operation of a bingo parlor on a parcel of land located within both the Village and the Nation's federal reservation, and for corresponding injunctive relief.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Nation, agreeing with the district court that neither issue nor claim preclusion bars this suit and that IGRA preempts contrary Village law because the parcel of land at issue sits on "Indian lands" within the meaning of that Act. View "Cayuga Nation v. Tanner" on Justia Law

by
A member of the Metlakatla Indian Community was convicted of several commercial fishing violations in State waters and fined $20,000. He appealed his conviction and sentence to the court of appeals, which asked the Alaska Supreme Court to take jurisdiction of the appeal because of the importance of the primary issue involved: whether the defendant’s aboriginal and treaty-based fishing rights exempted him from State commercial fishing regulations. The defendant also challenged several evidentiary rulings and the fairness of his sentence. Because the Supreme Court held the State had authority to regulate fishing in State waters in the interests of conservation regardless of the defendant’s claimed fishing rights, and because the Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its procedural rulings, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. The Court also affirmed the sentence as not clearly mistaken, except for one detail on which the parties agreed: the district court was mistaken to include a probationary term in the sentence. The case was remanded for modification of the judgments to correct that mistake. View "Scudero Jr. v. Alaska" on Justia Law

by
Indian Health Services (IHS) previously provided health care to the federally recognized Tribe through a clinic in McDermitt, Nevada, and an emergency medical services program. Federal law entitles members of other tribes also to receive care at the clinic. In 2016, the Tribe notified IHS of its intent to assume responsibility for the clinic and part of the EMS program. The Tribe requested about $603,000 annually to provide medical care at the clinic. IHS awarded only about $53,000. The parties disputed whether the Tribe was entitled to all the funds that IHS previously had spent on the clinic or whether the agency could withhold the portion of those funds to benefit members of another tribe. IHS allocates generally funding among health care programs according to the number of eligible users living in the tribe's assigned. IHS funded the clinic to benefit the Tribe and the nearby Winnemucca Tribe. IHS argued that it could not include Winnemucca’s “tribal share” of clinic funding without that tribe’s consent. The parties disputed the treatment of third-party income from Medicare and Medicaid, which the Tribe now collects directly. The Tribe assumed full control of the clinic, filed suit, and obtained summary judgment.The D.C. Circuit reversed. The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, 25 U.S.C. 5321(a), did not permit withholding of the amount budgeted as benefitting members of the second tribe but did permit withholding an amount equal to the Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. View "Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe v. Becerra" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the final dispositional order of the circuit court terminating the parental rights of Mother and Father, the biological parents of C.R.W., holding that the circuit court did not err or abuse its discretion.C.R.W. was the subject of an abuse and neglect proceeding before the circuit court. C.R.W. was considered an Indian child under the Indian Child Welfare Act pursuant to 25 U.S.C. 1903(4), and the Oglala Sioux Tribe intervened in the proceeding. The Tribe moved to disqualify C.R.W.'s attorney on the grounds that the attorney had a conflict of interest with C.R.W. The circuit court denied the motion. During the proceedings, Mother and the Tribe moved to transfer the case to tribal court, but the motion was denied. After the parents' parental rights were terminated, Mother and the Tribe appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court (1) did not err when it denied the Tribe's motions to disqualify C.R.W.'s attorney; and (2) did not abuse its discretion in denying Mother's motions to transfer jurisdiction. View "In re C.R.W." on Justia Law

by
Charles Williams was a Colorado prisoner who practiced a Native American religion that used tobacco in sweat lodges. The ceremonies were possible because prison officials specified where inmates could use tobacco in religious services. In 2018, prison officials confiscated tobacco from a prisoner and suspected that it had come from Williams’s religious group. Prison officials responded with a 30-day ban on the use of tobacco for religious services. Weeks later, prison officials imposed a lockdown and modified operations, including an indefinite suspension of Native American religious services. Despite this suspension, prison officials allowed Christian and Islamic groups to continue their religious services because outside volunteers could provide supervision. The complaint implied that the suspension lasted at least nine days. Williams sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging in part that prison officials violated the First Amendment. The defendants moved to dismiss, asserting qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion on the ground that Williams’s allegations had overcome qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit concurred: because Williams adequately alleged the violation of a clearly established constitutional right, he has overcome qualified immunity. So the denial of the defendants’ motion to dismiss was affirmed. View "Williams v. Borrego" on Justia Law

by
The superior court terminated a father’s parental rights to his two children after finding them children in need of aid because of their father’s domestic violence and aggressive behavior. The children were Indian children under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Therefore the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) was required to make active efforts to provide remedial services and rehabilitative programs designed to prevent the breakup of the family. At the termination trial, the superior court found clear and convincing evidence that OCS made active efforts but that these efforts proved unsuccessful. The father appealed, arguing only that the superior court’s active efforts finding was made in error. Finding no reversible error, the Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the termination order. View "Ronald H. v. Alaska, DHSS, OCS" on Justia Law

by
Charles W. Sr. (Father) challenged a juvenile court's finding regarding his children Charles W. Jr. (Jr.), S.W., and R.W., that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) did not apply. He contended there was an insufficient inquiry of the mother’s ancestry. The children’s parents have a history of substance abuse. In a prior dependency case, the parents admitted to their use of methamphetamine. In January 2019, the juvenile court found ICWA did not apply in the proceeding. In July 2020, after completing her reunification services, the children’s mother (Mother) was granted sole custody of Jr. and S.W. Father did not complete his reunification services. Several months later in late September, R.W. was born to Mother and Father. In December 2020, police officers responded to the hotel room where the family was living and seized a large quantity of illicit drugs, which were accessible to the three young children. Both parents were arrested on drug-related charges, and they admitted to using drugs. Mother told the assigned social worker she had Yaqui and Aztec heritage but she “already went through the Court process,” and the court had found ICWA did not apply. Days later, the state filed dependency petitions on behalf of all three children; the Agency submitted a completed form ICWA-010(A), indicating Mother’s report of “Yaqui and Aztec Native American heritage” and Father’s denial of Indian heritage. The Agency also filled out a “field worksheet for updating client demographics.” On this worksheet, as to ICWA applicability (“ICWA?”), the Agency marked “No” for the two older children and made no marking for R.W. Further, for each child, a tribal affiliation of “Sioux” was denoted. At a dispositional hearing at which mother and her counsel attended, Native American ancestry was denied: “I spoke to my client this morning. She has no Native American ancestry. She does have some ancestry through central Mexico.” The court went on to “reconfirm ICWA does not apply at this time based on the information provided to the court and the reaffirmation of no Native American ancestry as stated and will be provided on the 020 form by Mother’s counsel." The Court of Appeal disagreed with Father's contention that the juvenile court and Agency did not make a sufficient inquiry as to the children's ancestry before finding the ICWA did not apply. "[G]iven the prior ICWA finding regarding this family and the parents’ unequivocal denials of Indian ancestry, we do not find it reasonably probable that further inquiry based on the record before us would yield a different result." View "In re Charles W., Jr." on Justia Law