Articles Posted in Native American Law

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The Navajo Nation filed suit to enforce a proposed funding agreement. By law, the BIA had 90 days after receipt to act on the proposal or it would be deemed approved. The BIA did not consider the proposal "received" until normal government operations later resumed after a government shutdown. The district court granted summary judgment to the DOI. The court explained that even if the government employee violated the Anti-Deficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. 1341(a), 1342, by accepting the Navajo Nation's proposal, the agency was nonetheless bound by the consequences of him doing so. The court rejected the DOI's claim that the Navajo Nation is equitably estopped from disputing the timeliness of the declination after remaining silent in the face of the BIA's repeated assertions of its position on the matter. The court also rejected the DOI's claim that equitable tolling of the 90-day deadline is appropriate for the period of the government shutdown. The court concluded that this case did not present the sort of extraordinary circumstances that justify equitable tolling. Finally, the court rejected the DOI's challenge to the award amount. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment. View "Navajo Nation v. DOI" on Justia Law

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The Cowlitz gained legal status as a tribe in the eyes of the government in 2002 and then successfully petitioned the Department of the Interior to take into trust and declare as their “initial reservation” a parcel of land. The Cowlitz wish to use this parcel for tribal government facilities, elder housing, a cultural center, as well as a casino. Two groups of plaintiffs, Clark County and Grande Ronde, filed suit under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 551 et seq., challenging the Interior Secretary’s decision to take the land into trust and to allow casino-style gaming. The district court consolidated the actions and subsequently ruled in favor of the Secretary and Cowlitz. The court concluded that the Secretary reasonably interpreted and applied the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), 25 U.S.C. 461 et seq., to conclude that the Cowlitz are a recognized Indian tribe now under Federal jurisdiction; the Secretary reasonably determined that the Cowlitz meet the “initial-reservation” exception to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), 25 U.S.C. 2701 et seq.; and the court rejected plaintiffs' remaining claims of error under the IRA, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., and 25 C.F.R. 83.12(b), based on the Secretary’s alleged failure independently to verify the Tribe’s business plan and membership figures. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde v. Jewell" on Justia Law

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The Mackinac Tribe filed suit to compel the Secretary of the Interior to convene an election allowing the Tribe to organize under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), 25 U.S.C. 476(a). Although the Mackinac Tribe does not appear on the Secretary’s list of federally acknowledged tribes and has not been acknowledged through the Secretary’s Part 83 process, see 25 C.F.R. pt. 83, the group alleges it is federally recognized for IRA purposes because it is the historical successor to a tribe the federal government previously recognized via treaty. The district court found that the Mackinac Tribe failed to exhaust its administrative remedies by first seeking acknowledgment through the Part 83 process. As the district court did, the court reserved the question whether a group must be recognized to be eligible to organize under the IRA and whether that recognition must be marked by the group’s appearance on the Secretary’s list of federally recognized tribes. The court read the Tribe's complaint as seeking a writ of mandamus. The court declined the requested mandamus because review will be possible after the Mackinac Tribe has completed the Part 83 procedure. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment. View "Mackinac Tribe v. Jewell" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 702, 705, challenging the authority of the Department of the Interior to take title to a particular tract of land under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), 25 U.S.C. 465. The land (the Bradley Property) had been put into trust for the use of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians in Michigan, otherwise known as the Gun Lake Band or the Gun Lake Tribe. After the Supreme Court determined that plaintiff had prudential standing to bring this suit, Congress passed the Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act (the Gun Lake Act), Pub. L. No. 113-179, 128 Stat. 1913, a stand-alone statute reaffirming the Department’s decision to take the land in question into trust for the Gun Lake Tribe, and removing jurisdiction from the federal courts over any actions relating to that property. The court affirmed the district court's determination that the Gun Lake Act is constitutionally sound and thus plaintiff's suit must be dismissed. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying plaintiff's motion to strike a supplement to the administrative record. View "Patchak v. Jewell" on Justia Law

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Alaska Native tribes filed suit against the Department, challenging the regulation implementing the prohibition barring the Department from taking land into trust for Indian tribes in Alaska. After the district court held that the Department’s interpretation was contrary to law, the Department, following notice and comment, revised its regulations and dismissed its appeal. Alaska intervened and now seeks to prevent any new efforts by the United States to take tribal land to trust within the State's borders. In this case, Alaska intervened in the district court as a defendant and brought no independent claim for relief. The court concluded that once the Department rescinded the Alaska exception, this case became moot. Even assuming, as Alaska argues, that the district court’s interpretation of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), 43 U.S.C. 1601 et seq., injured the State, such injury cannot extend the court's jurisdiction by creating a new controversy on appeal. Accordingly, the court dismissed Alaska's appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Akiachak Native Community v. DOI" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of the Department of the Interior’s misadministration of Native American trust accounts and an ensuing complex, nationwide litigation and settlement. The class action representatives appealed the district court's denial of compensation for expenses incurred during the litigation and settlement process. The court affirmed the district court’s denial of additional compensation for expenses for the lead plaintiff because the district court expressly wrapped those costs into an incentive award given to her earlier. However, the district court erred in categorically rejecting as procedurally barred the class representatives’ claim for the recovery of third-party payments, and remanded for the district court to apply its accumulated expertise and discretion to the question of whether third-party compensation can and should be paid under the Settlement Agreement. View "Cobell v. Jewell" on Justia Law

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The Tribe filed claims in 2005 against the Department for unpaid contract support costs that accrued from 1996 through 1998. At issue was whether the Tribe may sue under the doctrine of equitable tolling even though the statute of limitations has lapsed. The court concluded that the Tribe's claims were barred by the statute of limitations because the legal misunderstandings and tactical mistakes the Tribe identified did not amount to extraordinary circumstances justifying equitable tolling. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Menominee Indian Tribe v. United States" on Justia Law

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This case involved numerous claims concerning environmental hazards at three sites on Navajo land in Arizona. El Paso, the successor-in-interest to the corporation that mined uranium at the Mill, filed suit against the United States and others, raising claims under the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978, 42 U.S.C. 7901-7942, and the Solid Waste Disposal Act, commonly referred to as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. 6901-6992k. The Tribe intervened and asserted parallel claims under these acts, as well as additional claims against the Government. The court reversed the dismissal "with prejudice" of El Paso's RCRA claims that related to the Dump; remanded with instructions to the district court to enter judgment against El Paso "without prejudice;" vacated the district court's dismissal of El Passo's RCRA claims as to the Highway 160 Site; remanded the case so that these claims could be considered on the merits; and the court affirmed the judgment of the district court in all other respects. View "El Paso Natural Gas Co. v. United States, et al." on Justia Law

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Oklahoma petitioned for review of the EPA's final rule establishing a federal implementation plan for the attainment of national air quality standards in "Indian country." The court held that a state has regulatory jurisdiction under the Clean Air Act (CAA), 42 U.S.C. 7401 et seq., over all land within its territory and outside the boundaries of an Indian reservation except insofar as an Indian tribe or the EPA has demonstrated a tribe has jurisdiction. In this instance, the EPA was without authority to displace Oklahoma's state implementation plan on non-reservation Indian country where the agency requires a tribe to show it has jurisdiction before regulating Indian country outside a reservation, yet made no demonstration of tribal jurisdiction before itself regulating those areas. Accordingly, the court granted the petition for review and vacated the Rule with respect to non-reservation lands. View "OK Dept. Environmetal Quality v. EPA" on Justia Law

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Agreeing with the Board, the district court ruled that Quantum's 1996 Management Agreement with the Pueblo was null and void for lack of approval by the Secretary as required by 25 U.S.C. 81, and that it was incapable of being validated by the 2000 amendment to section 81, the application of which would be impermissibly retroactive. Applying Landgraf v. USI Film Products, the court concluded that Congress made no clear statement that it intended the 2000 amendment to apply retroactively. The court also concluded that, because the 1996 Agreement required Secretarial approval that was never obtained and the parties agreed that the Agreement would be valid without Secretarial approval under section 81 as amended, the application of the new law would give life to a null and void agreement, thereby attaching new legal consequences to it. Although the Pueblo may have voluntarily undertaken the stated duties and liabilities under the Agreement, such an agreement was null and void without Secretarial approval before 2000. Since the Secretary never approved the Agreement, any legislative validation of the duties or liabilities attached to it was impermissibly retroactive. Accordingly, the court affirmed the grant of summary judgment. View "Quantum Entertainment Ltd. v. Dept. of the Interior" on Justia Law