Justia Native American Law Opinion Summaries

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The State of Alaska claimed the right under Revised Statute 2477 (RS 2477) to clear land and permit the use of boat launches, camping sites, and day use sites within an alleged 100-foot right of way centered on a road on land belonging to an Alaska Native corporation, Ahtna, Inc. Ahtna sued, arguing that its prior aboriginal title prevented the federal government from conveying a right of way to the State or, alternatively, if the right of way existed, that construction of boat launches, camping sites, and day use sites exceeded its scope. After years of litigation and motion practice the superior court issued two partial summary judgment orders: (1) holding as a matter of law that any preexisting aboriginal title did not disturb the State’s right of way over the land; and (2) holding as a matter of law that the right of way was limited to ingress and egress. To these orders, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not err, therefore affirming both grants of partial summary judgment. View "Ahtna, Inc. v. Alaska, Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the termination of Mother's parental rights to her child, holding that the district court did not err in terminating Mother's parental rights under state and federal law.In terminating Mother's parental rights to her child the district court made the additional findings and used the heightened evidentiary standards required by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err (1) in failing to make specific findings under the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act when terminating Mother's parental rights; (2) when it terminated Mother's parental rights under Mont. Code Ann. 41-3-609 and 25 U.S.C. 1912; and (3) in terminating Mother's rights under federal and state law. View "Matter of K.L.N." on Justia Law

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Swiger accepted a $1200 loan from online lender Plain Green, an entity owned by and organized under the laws of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation, Montana. She describes Rees as the “mastermind” behind a "rent-a-tribe" scheme, alleging that he and his company used Plain Green's tribal sovereign immunity as a front to shield them from state and federal law. When Swiger signed the loan contract, she affirmed that Plain Green enjoys “immun[ity] from suit in any court,” and that the loan “shall be governed by the laws of the tribe,” not the laws of any state. She agreed to binding arbitration under tribal law, subject to review only in tribal court. The provision covers “any issue concerning the validity, enforceability, or scope of this Agreement or this Agreement to Arbitrate.” Seven months after accepting the loan, Swiger alleged that she repaid $1170.54 but still owed $1922.37.Swiger sued, citing Michigan and federal law, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and consumer protection laws. The district court concluded that the enforceability of the arbitration agreement “has already been litigated, and decided against Rees, in a similar case commenced in Vermont.” The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to stay the case pending arbitration. Swiger’s arbitration agreement includes an unchallenged provision delegating the question of arbitrability to an arbitrator. The district court exceeded its authority when it found the agreement unenforceable View "Swiger v. Rosette" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment confirming an arbitration award in favor of the State of New York. The court held that the arbitral panel – which did in fact consider the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) – reasonably concluded that its task in this case was a straightforward matter of contract interpretation not subject to the Secretary of the Interior's approval. The court explained that the panel did not disregard the IGRA, and deferral to the Department of the Interior was not warranted. Therefore, the arbitral panel did not manifestly disregard governing law, and the district court properly confirmed the award. View "Seneca Nation of Indians v. State of New York" on Justia Law

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Cherokee Services Group, LLC; Cherokee Nation Government Solutions, LLC; Cherokee Medical Services, LLC; Cherokee Nation Technologies, LLC (collectively referred to as the “Cherokee Entities”); Steven Bilby; and Hudson Insurance Company (“Hudson Insurance”) appealed district court orders and a judgment reversing an administrative law judge’s (“ALJ”) order. The ALJ’s order concluded the Cherokee Entities and Bilby were protected by tribal sovereign immunity and Workforce Safety and Insurance (“WSI”) had no authority to issue a cease and desist order to Hudson Insurance. The district court reversed the ALJ’s determination. The Cherokee Entities were wholly owned by the Cherokee Nation; Bilby served as executive general manager of the Cherokee Entities. Hudson Insurance provided worldwide workers’ compensation coverage to Cherokee Nation, and the Cherokee Entities were named insureds on the policy. WSI initiated an administrative proceeding against the Cherokee Entities, Bilby, and Hudson Insurance. WSI determined the Cherokee Entities were employers subject to North Dakota’s workers’ compensation laws and were liable for unpaid workers’ compensation premiums. WSI also ruled that Bilby, as executive general manager, was personally liable for unpaid premiums. WSI ordered the Cherokee Entities to pay the unpaid premiums, and ordered Hudson Insurance to cease and desist from writing workers’ compensation coverage in North Dakota. The Cherokee Nation had no sovereign land in North Dakota, and the Cherokee Entities were operating within the state but not on any tribal lands. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the district court judgment, and reinstated and affirmed the ALJ’s order related to the cease and desist power of WSI, but the matter was remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings on the issue of sovereign immunity. View "WSI v. Cherokee Services Group, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellee Warehouse Market subleased a commercial building from defendant Pinnacle Management, Inc. The building was on federally restricted Indian land. Subsequently, defendant-appellant, Oklahoma Tax Commission (OTC) and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Office of Tax Commission (Tribe) both sought to collect sales tax from Warehouse Market. Warehouse Market filed an interpleader action in an attempt to have the court determine which entity to pay. However, the trial court dismissed the Tribe because it had no jurisdiction over it because of the Tribe's sovereign immunity. The trial court then determined that the OTC could not be entitled to the sales tax unless and until the dispute between the OTC and the Tribe was resolved in another forum or tribunal. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that because the substance of Warehouse Market's action/request for relief was a tax protest, exhaustion of administrative remedies was a jurisdictional prerequisite to seeking relief in the trial court. View "Warehouse Market v. Oklahoma ex rel. Ok. Tax Comm." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the circuit court granting Defendant's motion to suppress statements he made to a state officer on the grounds that the officer lacked authority to investigate crimes in Indian country, holding that the officer did not violate any jurisdictional principles by entering Indian country to investigate crimes that occurred outside Indian country.When Defendant spoke with agents from the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs at his home located on Indian trust land concerning property crimes that had occurred outside Indian country he produced evidence implicating him a burglary in Bennett County. Defendant was charged in state court. The circuit court suppressed Defendant's statements, concluding that the agents did not have authority to investigate state criminal offenses in Indian country. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Defendant failed to show that the agents lacked authority to investigate state offenses while in Indian country or that the agents' actions infringed upon tribal sovereignty; and (2) Defendant failed to show a Fourth Amendment violation. View "State v. Cummings" on Justia Law

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The Tribe purchased the coastal property and applied to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take the property into trust, 25 U.S.C. 5108. The federal Coastal Zone Management Act requires that each federal agency whose activity affects a coastal zone must certify that the activity is consistent with state coastal management policies, 16 U.S.C. 1456(c). The Bureau determined the Tribe’s proposal is consistent with state coastal policies, including public access requirements in the Coastal Act. (Pub. Resources Code 30210). The Coastal Commission concurred after securing commitments from the Tribe to protect coastal access and coordinate with the state on future development. If the Tribe violates those policies, the Coastal Commission may request that the Bureau take remedial action. The plaintiffs use the Tribe’s coastal property to access the beach. They allege that the property's prior owner dedicated a portion of it to public use, in 1967-1972 and sought to quiet title to a public easement for vehicle access and parking; they did not allege that the Tribe has interfered with their coastal access or plans to do so.The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Sovereign immunity bars a quiet title action to establish a public easement for coastal access on property owned by an Indian tribe. Tribal immunity is subject only to two exceptions: when a tribe has waived its immunity or Congress has authorized the suit. Congress has not abrogated tribal immunity for a suit to establish a public easement. View "Self v. Cher-AE Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria" on Justia Law

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court previously declared that certain tribal gaming compacts the Oklahoma Executive branch entered into with the Comanche and Otoe-Missouria Tribes were invalid under Oklahoma law because the gaming compacts authorized certain forms of Class III gaming prohibited by state law. While "Treat I" was pending before the Supreme Court, the Executive branch entered into two additional compacts with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Kialegee Tribal Town. The parties to the compacts submitted the tribal gaming compacts to the United States Department of the Interior, and the Department of the Interior deemed them approved by inaction, only to the extent they are consistent with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined these new compacts were also not valid: for the new compacts to be valid under Oklahoma law, the Executive branch must have negotiated the new compacts within the statutory bounds of the Model Tribal Gaming Compact (Model Compact) or obtained the approval of the Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations. Without proper approval by the Joint Committee, the new tribal gaming compacts were invalid under Oklahoma law. View "Treat v. Stitt" on Justia Law

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The Oklahoma Shawnee Tribe challenged the allocation of funds under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 801(a)(1). Of the $150 billion appropriated, the Act reserved $8 billion for “Tribal governments.” The amount paid to a Tribal government is determined by the Secretary of the Treasury “based on increased expenditures of each such Tribal government . . . relative to aggregate expenditures in fiscal year 2019 by the Tribal government." Rather than using the enrollment numbers submitted by the tribes, the Secretary relied on tribal population data used by HUD in connection with the Indian Housing Block Grant program.” That data does not reflect actual enrollment. The Secretary’s decision to use IHBG data had an unfortunate impact on the Shawnee Tribe, which had over $6.6 million in expenditures in 2019, and “incurred significant medical and public health expenses in responding to the devastation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.” It received $100,000.The district court, finding the allocation of funds under the Act unreviewable, dismissed the case. The D.C. Circuit reversed, with directions to enter a preliminary injunction promptly. By requiring that the allocations be “based on increased expenditures,” Congress has not left the Secretary with “unbounded” discretion. The court noted that the Secretary acknowledged that the IHBG data was inadequate as a proxy for increased expenditures in some cases but did not seek alternative information for the 25 tribes with no IHBG population. View "Shawnee Tribe v. Mnuchin" on Justia Law