Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Native American Law
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Title V of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) makes certain funds available to the recognized governing bodies of any "Indian Tribe" as that term is defined in the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA).The DC Circuit held that Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs), state-chartered corporations established by Congress to receive land and money provided to Alaska Natives in settlement of aboriginal land claims, do not qualify as Indian Tribes under the CARES Act and ISDA. Therefore, ANCs are not eligible for funding under Title V of the CARES Act.The court stated that an ANC cannot qualify as an "Indian tribe" under ISDA unless it has been "recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians;" because no ANC has been federally "recognized" as an Indian tribe, as the recognition clause requires, no ANC satisfies the ISDA definition; although ANCs cannot be recognized as Indian tribes under current regulations, it was highly unsettled in 1975, when ISDA was enacted, whether Native villages or Native corporations would ultimately be recognized; and the Alaska clause does meaningful work by extending ISDA's definition of Indian tribes to whatever Native entities ultimately were recognized—even though, as things later turned out, no ANCs were recognized. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the government and the intervenors, as well as the district court's denial of summary judgment to the plaintiff tribes. View "Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Mnuchin" on Justia Law

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The Narragansett Tribe petitioned for review of the Commission's order denying its motion to intervene in a natural gas pipeline certificate proceeding after the certificate to build a pipeline had issued. While the Tribe awaited the Commission's action on its pending motion to intervene and its separate motion for reconsideration of an order allowing construction to commence, the pipeline was completed. In the process, more than twenty ceremonial stone features were destroyed. The Tribe then petitioned for review seeking only an order compelling the Commission to amend its regulation so that it cannot repeat the alleged violations of the National Historic Preservation Act in the future.The DC Circuit held that the Tribe lacked standing to seek such relief because it has not shown a substantial risk that a similar disagreement between it and the Commission will recur. Accordingly, the court dismissed the petition based on lack of jurisdiction. View "Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged one of the FCC's orders paring some regulatory requirements for the construction of wireless facilities. The Order exempted most small cell construction from two kinds of previously required review: historic-preservation review under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Furthermore, the Order effectively reduced Tribes' role in reviewing proposed construction of macrocell towers and other wireless facilities that remain subject to cultural and environmental review.The DC Circuit granted the petitions in part because the Order did not justify the Commission's determination that it was not in the public interest to require review of small cell deployments. In this case, the Commission did not adequately address possible harms of deregulation and benefits of environmental and historic-preservation review pursuant to its public interest authority under 47 U.S.C. 319(d). Therefore, the Order's deregulation of small cells was arbitrary and capricious. The court denied the petitions for review on the remaining claims. View "United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma v. FCC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that they were not subject to federal recordkeeping laws dealing with the distribution of cigarettes. The DC Circuit held that neither the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act of 1978 nor the implementing regulations contain any language exempting tribal entities operating on Indian reservations from the federal recordkeeping requirements. The Act's recordkeeping requirements apply to any person; under federal law, "person" includes "corporations"; plaintiffs are "corporations"; and therefore plaintiffs are "persons" and the Act's recordkeeping requirement applied to them. Furthermore, the statutory context was another reason why the district court correctly held that Congress did not exempt the corporate plaintiffs from the Act's recordkeeping provision. View "Ho-Chunk, Inc. v. Sessions" on Justia Law

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The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows a federally-recognized Indian tribe to conduct gaming on lands held in trust by the Secretary of the Interior for the tribe’s benefit, 25 U.S.C. 2710(b)(1), 2703(4)(B) if the lands had been taken into trust as of the Act’s effective date of October 17, 1988. The Act permits gaming on lands that are taken into trust after that date “as part of . . . the restoration of lands for an Indian tribe that is restored to Federal recognition” to ensure “that tribes lacking reservations when [the Act] was enacted are not disadvantaged relative to more established ones.” In 1992, the Mechoopda Tribe regained its federal recognition; 12 years later, the Tribe asked the Secretary to take into trust a 645-acre Chico, California parcel, so that the Tribe could operate a casino, arguing that the parcel qualified as “restored lands.” The Secretary agreed. Butte County, where the parcel is located, sued. The district court and D.C. Circuit upheld the Secretary’s decision, rejecting an argument that the Secretary erred by reopening the administrative record on remand. The court noted the Secretary’s findings concerning the Tribe’s historical connection to the land and whether current Tribe members were descendants of the historical Tribe and concluded that the Secretary’s substantive decision survives arbitrary-and-capricious review. View "Butte County, California v. Chaudhuri" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Department in an action challenging the Department's decision to take a tract of land into trust for the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians and authorized it to operate a casino there. The court held that the North Fork was an Indian tribe for which the Department had authority to acquire trust land under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). The court rejected plaintiffs' claims that the Department's trust decision violated the IRA, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act. The court viewed the same extensive record and afforded the appropriate measure of deference to the Department's supportable judgments and concluded that its decisions were reasonable and consistent with applicable law. View "Stand Up For California! v. DOI" on Justia 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