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Last updated: September 11, 2014
Next update should be ready by: September 19, 2014
Please alert us to any cases we may have missed from the U.S. Courts of Appeals.
*Synopsis: Thlopthlocco Tribal Town, a federally recognized Indian tribe, brought action against tribal judicial officers of the Muscogee Nation, another federally recognized Indian tribe, seeking to enjoin the Muscogee Nation tribal court's exercise of jurisdiction over an election dispute, after the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town withdrew its consent to the tribal court's jurisdiction. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, James H. Payne, J., 2013 WL 65234, dismissed. The Thlopthlocco Tribal Town appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Tymkovich, Circuit Judge, held that:
(1) the District Court had subject matter jurisdiction;
(2) the alleged unlawful exercise of tribal court jurisdiction was sufficient for application of Ex parte Young doctrine to tribal sovereign immunity;
(3) the Muscogee Nation was not an indispensable party;
(4) the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town failed to exhaust its claims in tribal court; and
(5) abatement was preferable to dismissal pending exhaustion of tribal court remedies.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin v. United States
Briefs from Turtle Talk
2014 WL 4290302
United States Court of Appeals, Disctrict of Columbia Circuit, Argued March 13, 2014. Decided Sept. 2, 2014.
*Synopsis: Indian tribe that operated health care system for tribal members pursuant to self-determination contract with Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) brought action against HHS, alleging breach of that contract. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 539 F.Supp.2d 152,dismissed tribe's claims in part, and, 2008 WL 3919158, denied tribe's motion to reconsider. The Court of Appeals, 614 F.3d 519, reversed and remanded. On remand, the District Court, Rosemary M. Collyer, J., 841 F.Supp.2d 99, granted summary judgment in favor of government. Tribe appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Pillard, Circuit Judge, held that:
(1) tribe's miscalculation that it would be eligible to participate in class action was not extraordinary circumstance warranting equitable tolling of applicable limitations period;
(2) alleged certainty of failure tribe faced in bringing its claims was not an extraordinary circumstance that warranted equitable tolling; and
(3) series of events that tribe faced in bringing its claims did not jointly amount to an extraordinary circumstance.
*Synopsis: Scientists brought declaratory judgment action against tribal repatriation committee, university, its regents, and certain of its officials, opposing repatriation of aboriginal human remains that had been possessed by federally funded museums and educational institutions since their discovery on university property during archaeological field excavation project. The United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Richard Seeborg, J., dismissed the complaint. Scientists appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Thomas, Circuit Judge, held that:
(1) scientists had standing to bring action seeking a declaration that the remains were not "Native American" within meaning of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA);
(2) NAGPRA did not abrogate tribes' sovereign immunity from suit;
(3) tribal repatriation committee was entitled to tribal sovereign immunity as an arm of the tribe;
(4) tribal repatriation committee did not waive its sovereign immunity;
(5) tribes and repatriation committee were necessary parties;
(6) tribes and repatriation committee were indispensable parties; and
(7) public rights exception to compulsory joinder rule did not apply.
*Synopsis: Consumers brought putative class action in state court against limited liability company (LLC) and other entities offering payday loans that were owned by, or doing business with, enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, alleging violations of Illinois civil and criminal statutes related to loans that consumers had received. Defendants removed the action. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, Charles P. Kocoras, J., granted defendants' motion to dismiss for improper venue. Consumers appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Ripple, Circuit Judge, held that:
(1) forum selection clause of payday loan agreements specifying that any disputes arising from the agreements would be resolved in arbitration by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Nation was illusory and, thus, unenforceable;
(2) tribal courts did not have subject matter jurisdiction over consumers' claims; and
(3) defendants failed to establish a colorable claim of tribal jurisdiction, and, therefore, exhaustion in tribal courts was not required.
Reversed and remanded.
*Synopsis: Plaintiffs brought action against the Department of the Interior, seeking declaration that Department's enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act violated the Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) because it prohibited American Indians who were not members of federally-recognized tribes from possessing bald eagle feathers and golden eagle feathers. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas granted summary judgment to Department. Plaintiffs appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Haynes, Circuit Judge, held that Department, as movant for summary judgment, did not make prima facie showing of least restrictive means of furthering asserted governmental interests, as required under RFRA.
Reversed and remanded.
Related News Story: Fifth Circuit grants Native Americans religious freedom to obtain permits for eagle feathers (Southeast Texas Record) 9/9/14. 5th Cir. applies RFRA to Indian religious ceremonies subject to the MBTA and Eagle Protection Act (Lexology) 8/21/14
Gatzaros v. Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians
Briefs from Turtle Talk
2014 WL 3765834
United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Aug. 1, 2014.
*Synopsis: (from the opinion) Ted and Maria Gatzaros (Plaintiffs) appeal the dismissal of their suit against the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians (the Tribe) and the Kewadin Casinos Gaming Authority (the Authority). See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). They seek to recover approximately $74 million under a guaranty agreement that was signed by the Tribe and the Authority. For the reasons explained below, we AFFIRM.
* Holding: (not available)
Related News Story: 6th Circuit sides with Sault Tribe in commercial casino dispute (Indianz) 8/4/14
*Synopsis: Native-American tribe brought action, seeking permanent declaratory and injunctive relief against county's attempts to collect property taxes on five parcels of land purchased by tribe. The United States District Court for the Western District of New York, Charles J. Siragusa, J., 890 F.Supp.2d 240, granted tribe's motion for preliminary injunction to enjoin county from foreclosing on properties pursuant to New York law. County appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals held that tribal sovereign immunity protected tribe
*Synopsis: Defendant was convicted in the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, William M. Conley, Chief Judge, of bribing and conspiring to bribe a tribal legislator, and he appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Rovner, Circuit Judge, held that:
(1) evidence was sufficient to sustain conspiracy conviction;
(2) false invoices defendant submitted to vendors were admissible; and
(3) bribery guideline applied in sentencing defendant.
*Synopsis: Tribe brought suit against the United States and various federal agencies, alleging that issuance of drilling leases and permits on land violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and federal common law. Government moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Rodney Gilstrap, J., 2013 WL 1279033, adopted report and recommendation of Roy S. Payne, United States Magistrate Judge, 2013 WL 1279051, and granted motion to dismiss. Tribe appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Carl E. Stewart, Chief Judge, held that federal court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Tribe's claims.
Stockbridge Munsee Community v. New York
756 F.3d 163
Petition for Rehearing En Banc
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Argued: June 18, 2014. Decided: June 20, 2014.
*Synopsis: Indian tribe brought action against State of New York and certain state officials and agencies, counties, towns, and villages, asserting various claims alleging tribe, and not the State, had title to 36 square mile tract of land in upstate New York. The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, Kahn, J., 2013 WL 3822093, granted defendants' motions to dismiss, and tribe appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals held that equitable principles of laches, acquiescence, and impossibility barred tribe's claims.
*Synopsis: Following denial of their motion for judgment of acquittal, defendants were convicted after jury trial in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, James A. Teilborg, Senior District Judge, of aiding and abetting robbery on an Indian reservation, and they appealed their convictions.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Noonan, Circuit Judge, held that:
(1) no rational juror could have found that defendants had advance knowledge that package of tobacco would be taken from the victims, nor could a rational juror have inferred foreknowledge or intent from the circumstances, as required to convict defendants of aiding and abetting robbery;
(2) addressing a matter of apparent first impression for the court, attempted robbery, under statute proscribing robbery in special maritime or territorial jurisdictions, including Indian reservations, requires proof of specific intent; and
(3) the government failed to prove that defendants intended to take victim's money or wallet, as required to establish the underlying crime of attempted robbery, and as required to prove that either defendant aided and abetted any such attempt.
Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida Department of Revenue
750 F.3d 1238
United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, May 5, 2014
*Synopsis: Indian tribe brought action seeking declaratory judgment that tribe was exempt from paying state tax on fuel and injunction requiring refund of taxes paid. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, James I. Cohn, J., 917 F.Supp.2d 1255, dismissed complaint, and tribe appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Pryor, held that:
(1) state's sovereign immunity barred action, and
(2) action did not fall within scope of Ex parte Young exception to state's Eleventh Amendment immunity.
*Synopsis: Native American organization and inmates brought action against prison officials, claiming that the prison's policy of prohibiting tobacco use by Native American inmates during religious activities substantially burdened the exercise of their religious beliefs in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The United States District Court for the District of South Dakota, Karen E. Schreier, Chief Judge, 897 F.Supp.2d 828, found the restrictions violated RLUIPA and ordered parties to confer. After the parties failed to agree on a new tobacco policy, the District Court, 2013 WL 310633, entered a remedial order granting injunctive relief. The prison officials appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Bright, Circuit Judge, held that:
(1) the inmates' use of tobacco during Native American ceremonies was a religious exercise;
(2) the prison's complete ban on tobacco use substantially burdened the exercise of the inmates' religious beliefs;
(3) a complete ban was not the least restrictive means of furthering the prison's interest in order and security; and
(4) the District Court's remedial order was narrowly tailored to remedy the violation of inmates' rights.
*Synopsis: Casino management company's principal brought action to vacate tribal court decision regarding casino management contract dispute and to enjoin tribe from continuing tribal court action to pierce corporate veil. The United States District Court for the District of South Dakota, dismissed complaint in part, 835 F.Supp.2d 736, and entered summary judgment in tribe's favor on remaining claims. Principal appealed, and tribe cross-appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Shepherd, Circuit Judge, held that:
(1) company failed to adequately exhaust its tribal court remedies, and
(2) insolvency of company and its principal did not excuse principal from exhaustion requirement.
Affirmed in part and reversed in part.
*Synopsis: Natural gas company brought action against United States and other federal entities, alleging failure to fulfill obligations under Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act (UMTRCA), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in connection with certain properties alleged to be contaminated with residual radioactive waste. Indian tribe intervened, asserting claims under UMTRCA and federal and tribal law. Defendants moved to dismiss. The District Court, Richard J. Leon, J., 774 F.Supp.2d 40 and 847 F.Supp.2d 111, granted motions. Defendants appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Edwards, Senior Circuit Judge, held that:
(1) Comprehensive Environmental Resources, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) barred court's jurisdiction over RCRA claims related to landfill site;
(2) dismissal of RCRA claims under CERCLA should have been without prejudice;
(3) tribe's RCRA claims in relation to other site were not moot;
(4) as matter of first impression, governmental agencies are persons entitled to bring citizen suits under RCRA;
(5) UMTRCA did not preclude judicial review of tribe's APA claims;
(6) tribe failed to state "failure to act" claims under APA; and
(7) tribe did not have cause of action against United States for breach of trust duties.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Indians of Nevada v. U.S. Dep't of Interior
2014 WL 1244275
United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, March 27, 2014
*Synopsis: Indian tribes brought action challenging Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) approval of mining project on federal land, alleging violations of Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Project owner intervened. The United States District Court for the District of Nevada, Larry R. Hicks, J., 2012 WL 13780, granted summary judgment in favor of BLM and project owner. Tribes appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals held that:
(1) BLM did not act arbitrarily or capriciously when it determined further accommodation of Indian tribes' religious use of pediment area of piñon-juniper groves at base of mountain in project area was not practicable, and
(2) BLM did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in analyzing project's impacts on water resources.
Dolgencorp, Inc. v. the Mississippi Band of Chocktaw Indians
746 F.3d 167
United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, March 14, 2014
*Synopsis: Corporation, which operated store on Indian reservation, brought an action seeking to enjoin member of the Indian tribe, and other tribal defendants from adjudicating tort claims against it in tribal court. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, 846 F.Supp.2d 646, denied corporation's motion for summary judgment and granted summary judgment in favor of the tribal defendants, and corporation appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, James E. Graves, Jr., Circuit Judge, held that tribal jurisdiction would exist over tort claims brought against nonmember, which operated store on reservation, arising from alleged sexual molestation of Indian participant in job training program by store manager while participant was working at the store.
*Synopsis: Defendant was convicted in the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota, Charles B. Kornmann, J., of misapplication of funds from an Indian tribal organization and aiding and abetting, and was sentenced to 33 months' imprisonment, and she appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Riley, Chief Judge, held that:
(1) evidence was sufficient to support defendant's conviction, and
(2) defendant failed to rebut the presumption of reasonableness that applied to her guidelines sentence.
*Synopsis: Government moved to compel compliance by Indian tribe's historic preservation office with subpoena duces tecum that was issued by since-defunct grand jury, representing that investigation had been transferred to newly-empanelled grand jury. Preservation office objected and moved to quash subpoena on grounds of tribal sovereign immunity and unreasonableness. After granting motion to compel and issuing show cause order due to preservation office's noncompliance, the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island, John J. McConnell, Jr., J., held preservation office in civil contempt. Preservation office appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Howard, Circuit Judge, held that:
(1) subpoena could not be enforced by civil contempt sanctions after expiration of issuing grand jury;
(2) exception to mootness doctrine applied to warrant review of preservation office's additional challenges to subpoena;
(3) tribal sovereign immunity provides no refuge from subpoena power of federal grand jury; and
(4) denial of motion to quash subpoena as unreasonable was not abuse of discretion.
*Synopsis: Defendant was convicted in the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming, pursuant to the Major Crimes Act, of one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury in Indian Country and four counts of assault with a dangerous weapon with intent to do bodily harm in Indian Country. Defendant appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Robert E. Bacharach, Circuit Judge, held that:
(1) evidence of tribal or federal recognition of defendant's status as Indian was sufficient to support application of Major Crimes Act;
(2) trial court did not abuse its discretion in taking judicial notice of defendant's prior admission under oath of Indian status;
(3) any prejudice resulting from arresting officer's testimony portraying defendant as drunken and belligerent at time of his arrest was not unfair; and
(4) defendant's statements to arresting officer reflected defendant's involvement in charged assaults rather than uncharged misconduct.
Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes v. First Bank & Trust Company
560 Fed.Appx. 699
United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Feb. 11, 2014
*Synopsis: Native American tribes brought action against bank and Oklahoma state court judge, alleging that bank and judge violated tribes' sovereign immunity by transferring tribes' funds deposited at bank to court-supervised accounts as part of bank's Oklahoma state court declaratory judgment action, which sought to determine bank's obligations with regard to tribes' account in light of unsettled question of tribal governance. The United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma granted bank's and judge's motions to dismiss. Tribes appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Carlos F. Lucero, Circuit Judge, held that:
(1) tribes had standing to bring action;
(2) tribes could not maintain s 1983 action under doctrine of parens patriae;
(3) statute that allowed for tribes to seek injunctive relief that the United States could have sought did not constitute an express Congressional exception to Anti-Injunction Act's (AIA) general prohibition on grants of injunctions by federal courts to stay state court proceedings;
(4) AIA's general prohibition on grants of injunctions by federal courts to stay state court proceedings extended to declaratory judgment sought by tribes against judge;
(5) bank did not act under color of state law in imposing administrative freeze on tribes' funds, and thus tribes could not maintain s 1983 action against bank; and
(6) district court did not abuse its discretion in not providing tribes with leave to amend their complaint rather than dismissing their claims with prejudice.
*Synopsis: An advocacy organization and its members brought action against the State of California and its Governor, the Department of the Interior (DOI) and its Secretary, and the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) and its Acting Chairman, challenging the state's gaming compact with an Indian Tribe, and the federal recognition of the Tribe. The Indian Tribe intervened. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, William B. Shubb, Senior District Judge, 2011 WL 4709883, granted the Tribe's motion to dismiss, and denied a motion to vacate the dismissal, 2011 WL 6141291. The advocacy organization and its members appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals held that:
(1) the District Court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the Indian Tribe was a required party;
(2) the District Court did not abuse its discretion in determining that it would not be feasible to join the Indian Tribe;
(3) the District Court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the Indian Tribe was an indispensable party; and
(4) the public rights exception to joinder did not apply.
*Synopsis: Petroleum landman, and his sole proprietorship, brought action against various companies and individuals arising from Tribe's termination of his contract to provide independent consultant services. Plaintiff served Tribe with non-party subpoena duces tecum requesting documents. The United States District Court for the District of Utah, Clark Waddoups, J., 2012 WL 994403, denied the Tribe's motion to quash based on tribal immunity. Tribe appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Baldock, Circuit Judge, held that:
(1) denial of motion to quash based on tribal immunity was immediately appealable collateral order, and
(2) as matter of first impression in Circuit, subpoena itself was "suit" against Tribe triggering tribal sovereign immunity.
*Synopsis: State prisoner commenced action against individual prison officials, seeking prospective injunctive relief against them for violations of Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The United States District Court for the District of Wyoming granted summary judgment for prison personnel. Prisoner appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Gorsuch, Circuit Judge, held that factual issue existed as to whether preventing state prisoner from exercising his sincerely held religious belief that using sweat lodge cleansed and purified his mind, spirit, and body served compelling governmental interest and that it was least restrictive means of furthering that interest.
Vacated and remanded.
*Synopsis: Job applicant brought pro se Title VII action against Secretary of the Department of Interior (DOI) and Department officials. The United States District Court for the District of Utah, Dale A. Kimball, J., 2013 WL 5322625, dismissed sua sponte, and applicant appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit Carlos F. Lucero, Circuit Judge,
held that application of Indian Preference to job postings within DOI was not
racial discrimination under Title VII.
*Synopsis: Indian tribe brought action alleging that State violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) by failing to negotiate in good faith for a casino on a particular 11-acre parcel of land. The United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Claudia Wilken, P.J., granted summary judgment for the tribe, 759 F.Supp.2d 1149, but, subsequently, granted State's motion for a stay pending appeal, 2012 WL 298464. Both parties appealed.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Block, District Judge, sitting by designation, held that:
(1) tribe's right to request negotiations under the IGRA depends on it having jurisdiction over Indian lands on which it proposed to conduct gaming;
(2) the State could waive the IGRA's "Indian lands" requirement;
(3) State's challenge to entrustment of 11-acre parcel of land to tribe was timely; and
(4) 11-acre parcel of land did not constitute "Indian lands" over which tribe could demand negotiations.
Reversed and remanded.
*Synopsis: Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality petitioned for review of final rule promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Air Act (CAA), which established a federal implementation plan for the attainment of national air quality standards in Indian country.
* Holding: The Court of Appeals, Ginsburg, Senior Circuit Judge, held that:
(1) Oklahoma had standing to bring petition;
(2) Oklahoma's petition was not time-barred;
(3) Oklahoma did not forfeit its claim that state implementation plan presumptively applied in non-reservation Indian country; and
(4) EPA had no authority under the CAA to issue the rule.