Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Native American Law

By
The court amended its previous opinion and affirmed the district court's order issuing an injunction to Washington. In 1854 and 1855, Indian tribes relinquished large swaths of land in the Case Area under the Stevens Treaties. In exchange for their land, the tribes were guaranteed a right to off-reservation fishing. In 2001, twenty-one Indian tribes, joined by the United States, filed a "Request for Determination" in district court contending that the State had violated, and was continuing to violate, the Treaties. In 2007, the district court held that, in building and maintaining culverts that prevented mature salmon from returning from the sea to their spawning grounds, Washington had caused the size of salmon runs in the Case Area to diminish and that Washington thereby violated its obligation under the Treaties. In 2013, the district court issued an injunction ordering Washington to correct its offending culverts. The court concluded that Washington has violated, and continues to violate, its obligation to the Tribes under the fishing clause of the Treaties; the United States has not waived the rights of the Tribes under the Treaties, and has not waived its own sovereign immunity by bringing suit on behalf of the Tribes; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in enjoining Washington to correct most of its high-priority barrier culverts within seventeen years, and to correct the remainder at the end of the culverts' natural life or in the course of a road construction project undertaken for independent reasons. When considering Washington's appeal, the court did not understand it to argue that it should have been awarded, as recoupment or set-off, a monetary award from the United States. Although the argument was waived, the court noted that it was easily rejected. In this case, the United States sought injunctive relief against Washington and Washington sought a monetary award. The court explained that these two forms of relief are not of the same kind or nature. The court also rejected Washington's contention that because of the presence of non-state-owned barrier culverts on the same streams as state-owned barrier culverts, the benefit obtained from remediation of state-owned culverts will be insufficient to justify the district court's injunction. View "United States v. Washington" on Justia Law

By
The Tribal Lending Entities challenged the district court's decision compelling them to comply with the Bureau's civil investigative demands. The court rejected the Tribal Lending Entities' argument that because the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010, Title X, Pub. L. No. 111-203, 124 Stat 1376, defines the term "State" as including Native American tribes, the Tribal Lending Entities, as arms of sovereign tribes, are not required to comply with the investigative demands. The court concluded that, in the Act, which is a generally applicable law, Congress did not expressly exclude tribes from the Bureau’s enforcement authority. The court explained that, although the Act defines “State” to include Native American tribes, with States occupying limited co-regulatory roles, this wording falls far short of demonstrating that the Bureau plainly lacks jurisdiction to issue the investigative demands challenged in this case, or that Congress intended to exclude Native American tribes from the Act’s enforcement provisions. Neither have the Tribes offered any legislative history compelling a contrary conclusion regarding congressional intent. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "CFPB v. Great Plains Lending, LLC" on Justia Law

By
The Yakama Nation, King Mountain Tobacco Company, and Delbert Wheeler brought suit for injunctive and declaratory relief seeking to bar federal agencies and officials from imposing the federal excise tax on tobacco products manufactured by King Mountain, a corporation organized, existing, and operating under the laws of the Yakama Nation. The district court granted the federal agencies’ motion to dismiss as to King Mountain and Wheeler. The court then entered summary judgment in favor of the federal agencies. The Yakama Nation appealed. The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court’s summary judgment, holding (1) Yakama Nation’s claims were barred by the Anti-Injunction Act; and (2) the Yakama Nation’s claims did not fall within the narrow exception to the Act set out in South Carolina v. Regan. Remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. View "Yakama Indian Nation v. Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau" on Justia Law

By
Plaintiff, a member of the Tribe, filed suit against the Tribe in California state court for employment-related claims. The Tribe timely removed to district court and then moved to dismiss based on tribal immunity. The district court denied the motion based on the ground that the Tribe unequivocally waived its immunity by removing the action to federal court. The court followed the Eleventh Circuit and held that the act of removal does not express the clear and unequivocal waiver that is required for a tribe to relinquish its immunity from suit. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bodi v. Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians" on Justia Law

By
Plaintiffs are descendants of Margarita Britten (Margarita), a Pala Band of Mission Indian who was born in 1856. After the Executive committee disenrolled more than 150 of Margarita's descendants, the Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs (AS-IA) affirmed. Plaintiffs filed suit invoking 5 U.S.C. 706(2)(A), alleging that the AS-IA’s decision was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants. Determining that the court has jurisdiction to review the agency's decision, the court concluded that the AS-IA’s decision articulated a rational interpretation of the facts before him, and reasonably concluded that the 1997 Constitution was valid, notwithstanding the absence of a formal election, based on the language of the governing documents, and the past practice of the Band. The court rejected plaintiffs' argument that the BIA has an independent trust duty to protect them from unjust disenrollment. Because the Executive Committee now has ultimate authority over enrollment decisions under the 1997 Constitution and 2009 Ordinance, the AS-IA reasonably concluded that any questions of the surviving preclusive effect of the 1989 decision are properly directed to the Band, not the BIA. Finally, the AS-IA acted reasonably in declining to join two disenrolled minors to the agency appeal, because the minors had not challenged their disenrollment before the Regional Director. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment upholding the AS-IA; granted defendants' motion to supplement the record on appeal; and denied plaintiffs' motion for judicial notice. View "Aguayo v. Jewell" on Justia Law

By
In 1854 and 1855, Indian tribes relinquished large swaths of land in the Case Area under the Stevens Treaties. In exchange for their land, the tribes were guaranteed a right to off-reservation fishing. In 2001, twenty-one Indian tribes, joined by the United States, filed a "Request for Determination" in district court contending that the State had violated, and was continuing to violate, the Treaties. In 2007, the district court held that, in building and maintaining culverts that prevented mature salmon from returning from the sea to their spawning grounds, Washington had caused the size of salmon runs in the Case Area to diminish and that Washington thereby violated its obligation under the Treaties. In 2013, the district court issued an injunction ordering Washington to correct its offending culverts. The court concluded that Washing has violated, and continues to violate, its obligation to the Tribes under the fishing clause of the Treaties; the United States has not waived the rights of the Tribes under the Treaties, and has not waived its own sovereign immunity by bringing suit on behalf of the Tribes; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in enjoining Washington to correct most of its high-priority barrier culverts within seventeen years, and to correct the remainder at the end of the culverts' natural life or in the course of a road construction project undertaken for independent reasons. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Washington" on Justia Law

By
JAC filed suit contending that the NIGC violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321-4370h, when it approved the Tribe's gaming ordinance without first conducting a NEPA environmental review. The district court denied JAC's petition for a writ of mandamus under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706, holding that NIGC’s approval of the 2013 gaming ordinance was not “major federal action” within the meaning of NEPA. Even if NIGC's approval of the ordinance was a major Federal action, the court held that an agency need not adhere to NEPA where doing so would create an irreconcilable and fundamental conflict with the substantive statute at issue. In this case, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), 25 U.S.C. 2701–2721, requires NIGC to approve a gaming ordinance or resolution pursuant to a mandatory deadline. There is no question that it would be impossible for NIGC to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) in the ninety days it has to approve a gaming ordinance. Contrary to JAC’s arguments, NIGC’s approval of the Tribe’s gaming ordinance without conducting a NEPA environmental review did not violate NIGC’s obligations under NEPA because "where a clear and unavoidable conflict in statutory authority exists, NEPA must give way.” Accordingly, the court affirmed the denial of plaintiff's requested writ of mandamus. View "Jamul Action Comm. v. Chaudhuri" on Justia Law

By
The defeated faction of the Tribe filed suit arguing that the Department erred in several of its decisions related to choosing the leadership authority for the Tribe by failing to comply with the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 500 et seq. The court concluded that the Tribe’s recent adoption of a new constitution moots this appeal. Article III of the Constitution limits federal courts to deciding live cases or controversies. This rule forecloses the court's ability to reach the merits in this case, because there is no chance that a remand to the Bureau of Indian Affairs would make any difference whatsoever. View "Timbisha Shoshone Tribe v. USDOI" on Justia Law

By
Plaintiffs filed suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), 42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq., the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA), 42 U.S.C. 1996, the Free Exercise Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause. Specifically, plaintiffs sought to prevent the government from prosecuting them under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 21 U.S.C. 801 et seq., for possessing cannabis for religious or therapeutic use, obtaining cannabis, and cultivating or distributing cannabis consistent with state law. At issue in this appeal is the district court's grant of summary judgment for the government on the RFRA claim. The court concluded that, even assuming such use constitutes an “exercise of religion,” no rational trier of fact could conclude on this record that a prohibition of cannabis use imposes a “substantial burden.” Nothing in the record demonstrates that a prohibition on cannabis forces plaintiffs to choose between obedience to their religion and criminal sanction, such that they are being "coerced to act contrary to their religious beliefs." The court failed to see how prohibiting a substance that plaintiffs freely admit is a substitute for peyote would force them to act at odds with their religious beliefs. In light of Holt v. Hobbs, plaintiffs in this case have produced no evidence establishing that denying them cannabis forces them to choose between religious obedience and government sanction. The court rejected plaintiffs' claims under the AIRFA because the Act does not create a cause of action or any judicially enforceable individual rights. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Oklevueha Native Am. Church v. Lynch" on Justia Law

By
The Navajo Nation filed suit seeking immediate return of human remains and associated funerary objects taken from its reservation. Between 1931 and 1990, the National Park Service removed 303 sets of human remains and associated funerary objects from Canyon de Chelly National Monument, a sacred site on the Navajo Reservation. In the mid-1990s, the Park Service decided to inventory the remains and objects pursuant to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), 25 U.S.C. 3001-3013, with the ultimate goal of repatriating the remains and objects to culturally-affiliated tribes. The district court dismissed the suit as barred by sovereign immunity. The court held that the district court had jurisdiction to consider the Navajo Nation’s claims because the Park Service’s decision to inventory the remains and objects was a final agency action within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 704. By deciding to undertake NAGPRA’s inventory process, the Park Service conclusively decided that it, and not the Navajo Nation, has the present right to “possession and control” of the remains and objects. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Navajo Nation v. USDOI" on Justia Law