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

Articles Posted in Native American Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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The Nation and the State executed a gaming compact in 2002 pursuant to the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), 25 U.S.C. 2701-2721. After the Compact was approved by the Secretary of the Interior and became effective in 2003, the Nation purchased an unincorporated parcel of land within the outer boundaries of Glendale, Arizona, pursuant to the federal Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Act (LRA). Plaintiffs filed suit against the Nation seeking to enjoin the Nation's plan to conduct Class III gaming on Parcel 2. The district court granted summary judgment to the Nation. The court concluded that, under the ordinary meaning of the words used in the statutory text, the Nation plainly had “land claims” for damage to its reservation lands; were the court to find the term “land claim” to be ambiguous, and proceeded under Chevron to apply the DOI’s definition of the term, then the court would find that the Nation also had a claim concerning the impairment of title or other real property interest or loss of possession of its reservation land; and the district court did not err in determining that the LRA was a “settlement” of the Nation’s land claims. The court also concluded that the district court properly rejected plaintiffs' claims of judicial estoppel and waiver; the duly-executed Compact negotiated at length by sophisticated parties expressly authorizes the Nation to conduct gaming on its “Indian Lands,” subject to the requirements of section 2719 of IGRA; because Parcel 2 complies with the requirements of section 2719, and the Compact expressly allows the Nation to conduct Class III gaming there, the district court correctly entered summary judgment in favor of the Nation on plaintiffs’ breach of Compact claim; the Nation's choice to conduct Class III gaming in accordance with the express terms of the Compact does not deviate from the agreed common purpose of the Compact, and therefore does not breach the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; and the district court correctly concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ non-Compact claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Gila River Indian Cmty. v. Tohono O'odham Nation" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a non-Indian, appealed his conviction under the federal murder statute, 18 U.S.C. 111, for the murder of the victim on the Tohono O’odham Indian reservation in Arizona. The court concluded that section 1111 was applicable to defendant under the Indian General Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 1152, which makes federal criminal law applicable in federal enclaves when the defendant is a non-Indian and the victim is an Indian, because the government adduced sufficient evidence to establish that the victim in this case was an Indian. The court held that the evidence introduced at trial, taken in the light most favorable to the government, was sufficient to establish that defendant acted with premeditation and, therefore, the court affirmed defendant's conviction for first degree premeditated murder. Because the district court erred in defining the term “burglary” in section 1111 by reference to Arizona’s third-degree burglary statute, and this error was not harmless, the court vacated defendant's conviction for felony murder. View "United States v. Reza-Ramos" on Justia Law

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The Nation filed suit against defendants challenging the constitutionality of H.B. 2534, a law passed by the Arizona legislature that allows a city or town within populous counties to annex certain surrounding, unincorporated lands. The Nation alleges that H.B. 2534 was enacted to block the federal government from taking the 135 acres it purchased into trust on behalf of the Nation. The Nation planned to build a casino on Parcel 2 of the land. This process would render the land part of the Nation’s reservation pursuant to the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Act, Pub. L. No. 99-503, 100 Stat. 1798. The court concluded that H.B. 2534 stands as a clear and manifest obstacle to the purpose of the Act because it was enacted after the Nation’s trust application was filed, and it uses that application itself to thwart the taking of purchased land into trust. Accordingly, the court held that H.B. 2534 is preempted by the Act. The legality of the Secretary’s taking of Parcel 2 into trust pursuant to the Act is affirmed, and the Nation is free to petition the Secretary to have the remainder of the land taken into trust, pursuant to the Act. View "Tohono O'odham Nation v. Arizona" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a dispute between Pauma and the State over Tribal-State Gaming Compacts. Pauma filed suit against the State based on the court's prior decision in Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Community v. California (Colusa II). The district court granted summary judgment to Pauma on its misrepresentation claim. The court held that once a court’s judgment interpreting an ambiguous contract provision becomes final, that is and has always been the correct interpretation from its inception. Therefore, the court concluded that Colusa II's interpretation of the Compacts’ license pool provision applies retroactively, such that the State would be deemed to have misrepresented a material fact as to how many gaming licenses were available when negotiating with Pauma to amend its Compact; the district court awarded the proper remedy to Pauma by refunding $36.2 million in overpayments; and the State has waived its sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. The court agreed with the district court's finding that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), 25 U.S.C. 2710, is inapplicable in this case and therefore Pauma's argument that the State acted in bad faith is irrelevant. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Pauma Band of Luiseno Mission Indians v. California" on Justia Law

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Cascadia challenged the BIA's approval of the Kokwel Project, a plan by the Coquille Indian Tribe to harvest 268 acres of timber in the Coquille Forest in southwest Oregon. The district court granted summary judgment to the BIA and Tribe. The court concluded that the BIA and the Tribe did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq., by aggregating the Alder/Rasler Project, which had been approved, but not yet completed, as part of the environmental baseline against which the incremental impact of the Kokwel Project was considered. Further, the court concluded that the Coquille Restoration Act (CRA), 25 U.S.C. 715 et seq., does not require compliance with the Recovery Plan for the northern spotted owl. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Cascadia Wildlands v. Bureau of Indian Affairs" on Justia Law