2016 WL 3128383
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United States District Court,
Seminole Tribe of Florida, Plaintiff,
State of Florida, Defendant.
CASE NO. 4:15cv516-RH/CAS
ORDER DENYING THE MOTION TO DISMISS
Robert L. Hinkle, United States District Judge
*1 This case arises under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“the Act”), 25 U.S.C. § 2710. In count II of the complaint, the plaintiff Seminole Tribe of Florida seeks to compel the defendant State of Florida to negotiate in good faith a new compact, or an amendment to an existing compact, allowing the Tribe to operate banked card games. In count I, the Tribe seeks a declaration on the meaning of the existing compact. The State has moved to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction or, alternatively, to transfer the case to the Middle District of Florida, where the State filed its own action shortly after the Tribe filed this action. This order denies the motion to dismiss or transfer.
The Act requires a state to negotiate in good faith with an Indian tribe seeking to conduct gaming activity. 25 U.S.C. § 2710(d)(3)(A). And the Act provides jurisdiction in federal district court over any claim seeking to compel a state to meet this obligation: “The United States district courts shall have jurisdiction over ... any cause of action initiated by an Indian tribe arising from the failure of a State to enter into negotiations with the Indian tribe for the purpose of entering into a Tribal-State compact ... or to conduct such negotiations in good faith.” 25 U.S.C. § 2710(d)(7)(A). Count II of the Tribe’s complaint brings this case squarely within this grant of jurisdiction.
The State says that jurisdiction exists only over a claim seeking to compel a state to “negotiate,” not “renegotiate.” The contention is plainly wrong. First, as a matter of plain language, discussions between two sides over renewing, changing, extending, or replacing an existing contract are “negotiations.” Second, the word “negotiations” in the jurisdictional grant surely means the same thing as “negotiations” in the substantive provision requiring a state to negotiate with a tribe in the first place. Compare 25 U.S.C. § 2710(d)(3)(A) (requiring a state “to enter into negotiations”), with id. § 2710(d)(7)(A) (providing jurisdiction over a claim arising from a state’s failure “to enter into negotiations”).
One would expect that, in the ordinary course, as the fixed term of a compact nears an end, the state and the tribe would open negotiations for an extension or for a new compact. Any reading of the Act that would suggest a state has no duty to negotiate at that time would make no sense—it would mean that when a state’s first compact with a tribe ended, the state would be relieved of any obligation to negotiate a new or extended compact. This cannot be what Congress intended.
In sum, the term “negotiations” as used in the Act includes what the State calls “renegotiations.”
To be sure, the State says it has no obligation to negotiate further with the Seminole Tribe until the end of the existing compact’s term in 2030. But that is a contention that goes to the merits. Beyond any doubt, this is a case in which the Tribe asserts that the State has failed to negotiate in good faith as required by the Act. Whether the Tribe is correct or not correct will determine the outcome of the case on the merits. But either way, this court has jurisdiction to resolve the dispute.
*2 The State also says the claim is not ripe because the existing compact runs for 14 more years. But the Tribe brought this action because the State asserted that the Tribe’s authority to conduct banked card games already has expired. The Tribe asserts the State must negotiate now. And the harm that the Tribe seeks to avoid is occurring now. The case is ripe.
The State also challenges jurisdiction over count I, the Tribe’s claim for a declaration on the meaning of the existing compact. The Tribe says this claim is within the jurisdiction grant of 28 U.S.C. § 1362: “The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions, brought by any Indian tribe or band with a governing body duly recognized by the Secretary of the Interior, wherein the matter in controversy arises under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” There is support for the assertion. See, e.g., California v. Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians of Cal., No. 1:14cv01593, 2015 WL 9304835 (E.D. Cal. Dec. 22, 2015) (“Tribal-state compacts are created under federal law; therefore, a claim to enforce a compact arises under federal law.”).
The State disagrees. The State says the compact is a contract governed by state law and that count I therefore does not arise under federal law. But even if that is so, the claim is within the court’s supplemental jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).
Finally, the State asks to transfer this case to the Middle District of Florida, where the State filed its own action. The Middle District transferred that action to this court based at least partly on the first-filed rule. See Manuel v. Convergys Corp., 430 F.3d 1132, 1135 (11th Cir. 2005) (“Where two actions involving overlapping issues and parties are pending in two federal courts, there is a strong presumption across the federal circuits that favors the forum of the first-filed suit under the first-filed rule.”); see also Collegiate Licensing Co. v. Am. Cas. Co. of Reading, 713 F.3d 71, 78-79 (11th Cir. 2013). This district is plainly a proper venue for both actions.
If the Middle District’s transfer of its case to this district does not settle the issue of where the litigation should land, the transfer at least saps the State’s request of any force. The State made the relevant decisions and its witnesses are located in this district. Both cases will stay here. By a separate order, the cases will be consolidated.
For these reasons,
IT IS ORDERED:
The motion to dismiss or transfer, ECF No. 9, is denied.
SO ORDERED on January 6, 2016.