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

Articles Posted in Native American Law
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Court of Appeals' judgment ruling that FMC must pay an annual use permit fee for storage of hazardous waste on fee lands within the Shoshone-Bannock Fort Hall Reservation pursuant to a consent decree settling a prior suit brought against FMC by the EPA under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The panel held that the judgment of the Tribal Court of Appeals was enforceable pursuant to the two exceptions under Montana v. United States, 450 U.S. 544 (1981). First, a tribe may regulate the activities of nonmembers who enter into consensual relationships with the tribe or its members. Second, a tribe retains inherent power to exercise civil authority over the conduct of non-Indians on fee lands within its reservation when that conduct threatens or has some direct effect on the political integrity, the economic security, or the health or welfare of the tribe. In this case, the panel held that the Tribes had regulatory jurisdiction to impose the permit fees because FMC entered into a consensual relationship when it signed a permit agreement with the Tribes. Furthermore, FMC's storage of millions of tons of hazardous waste on the Reservation fell within the second Montana exception. Finally, the panel held that the Tribal Court of Appeals did not deny FMC due process through a lack of impartiality. View "FMC Corp. v. Shoshone-Bannock Tribes" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Pit River Tribe and environmental organizations in an action under the Geothermal Steam Act, against federal agencies responsible for administering twenty-six unproven geothermal leases located in California's Medicine Lake Highlands. Pit River alleged that the BLM's decision to continue the terms of the unproven leases for up to forty years violated the Act. Determining that it had jurisdiction to hear this appeal, the panel held that the statutory meaning of 30 U.S.C. 1005(a) is clear and unambiguous: it only permits production-based continuations on a lease-by-lease basis, not on a unit-wide basis. In this case, BLM failed to meet its burden of providing a compelling reason for the panel to depart from the plain meaning of section 1005(a). Therefore, the panel rejected BLM's argument that section 1005(a) authorizes forty-year continuations on a unit-wide basis once a single lease in a unit is deemed productive. View "Pit River Tribe v. Bureau of Land Management" on Justia Law

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Members of the Tribe filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of various federal statutory and constitutional rights, stemming from traffic citations issued to members of the Tribe from a sheriff's deputy inside the boundaries of the Chemehuevi Reservation. The district court subsequently granted summary judgment to defendants. The panel held that the Chemehuevi Reservation includes Section 36, and that Section 36 is Indian country. Therefore, the County does not have jurisdiction to enforce California regulatory laws within it. Furthermore, the panel held that the individual members have a cause of action under section 1983 against defendants. However, the Tribe cannot assert its sovereign rights under the statute. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded in part. View "Chemehuevi Indian Tribe v. McMahon" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by the Tribe, seeking to enforce a tribal court judgment against nonmembers. At issue was whether the grant of federal question jurisdiction in 28 U.S.C. 1331 encompasses an action to recognize and enforce a tribal court's award against nonmembers of the tribe. The panel held that inherent in the recognition of a tribal court's judgment against a nonmember is a question regarding the extent of the powers reserved to the tribe under federal law. The panel held that actions seeking to enforce a tribal judgment against nonmembers raised a substantial question of federal law, and thus the district court had federal question jurisdiction under section 1331 in this case. View "Coeur D'Alene Tribe v. Hawks" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order refusing to compel the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs to place the Aqua Caliente Tribe of Cupeño Indians on a list of federally recognized tribes published in the Federal Register. The panel held that the Tribe failed to exhaust the regulatory process under 25 C.F.R. 83 to obtain federal recognition. Instead, the Tribe argued that the Part 83 process did not apply because they sought "correction" of the list, not recognition. However, the panel held that framing the issue as one of "correction" was unsupported by the applicable regulations and case law. In regard to the Tribe's equal protection and Administrative Procedure Act claims, the panel held that Interior had a rational basis for not making an exception to the Part 83 process for the Tribe. The panel concluded that it was rational for the Interior to ask the Tribe to demonstrate through the Part 83 process how they are a "distinct Community" from the Pala Band of Mission Indians and "politically autonomous" so that Interior may make the federal-recognition determination, and Interior's explanation for treating the Tribe differently from other tribes passed muster. View "Agua Caliente Tribe of Cupeño Indians of the Pala Reservation v. Sweeney" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by a coalition of tribal, regional, and national conservation organizations who sued the government and others, challenging agency actions that reauthorized coal mining activities on land reserved to the Navajo Nation. The panel held that NTEC was a legally protected interest in the subject matter of this litigation, and that proceeding with the suit in NTEC's absence impaired that interest. Because no other party to the litigation could adequately represent NTEC's interests, the panel held that the district court did not err by determining that NTEC was a party that must be joined if feasible under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19(a). Furthermore, the district court properly concluded that NTEC was an "arm" of the Navajo Nation that enjoyed the Nation's immunity from suit and could not be joined to this action. The panel applied the Rule 19(b) factors and held that the district court did not err in concluding that the litigation could not, in good conscience, continue in NTEC's absence. Finally, the panel rejected the request to apply the public rights exception. View "Dine Citizens Against Ruining our Environment v. Bureau of Indian Affairs" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment against the Skokomish Tribe and in favor of respondents, in an action concerning which tribe had primary fishing rights within an already recognized "usual and accustomed" (U&A) territory. In United States v. Washington, Judge Boldt issued a permanent injunction, which granted tribal fishing rights, outlining the geography of the U&A locations of all the signatory tribes. The panel affirmed the district court's summary judgment order on the ground that the Skokomish failed to comply with the Boldt Decision's pre-filing jurisdictional requirements. The court held that a failure to abide by the pre-filing requirements was a failure to invoke the jurisdiction of this court. Therefore, the panel lacked the ability to proceed to the merits. View "Skokomish Tribe v. Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for two counts of fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer in violation of Oregon Revised Statutes 811.540(1), as assimilated by 18 U.S.C. 13, the Assimilative Crimes Act (ACA), and 18 U.S.C. 1152, the Indian Country Crimes Act (ICCA). Defendant argued that the federal government lacked jurisdiction to prosecute him for his violation of state law in Indian country because the ACA does not apply to Indian country. The panel affirmed the conviction and held that the ACA applies to Indian country, based on the panel's own precedent and through the operation of 18 U.S.C. 7 and 1152. Furthermore, neither the ICCA nor the Major Crimes Act precluded the federal government from exercising its jurisdiction to prosecute defendant for his violations of section 811.540(1) under the ACA. Accordingly, the court upheld the district court's denial of defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff's petition for panel rehearing was granted an this superseding opinion was filed. This case related to tort claims brought by the tribe against a nonmember employed by the tribe. At issue was whether the tribal court has jurisdiction to adjudicate tribal claims against its nonmember employee, where the tribe's personnel policies and procedures manual regulated the nonmember's conduct at issue and provided that the tribal council would address violations by the nonmember during the course of her employment, and the tribal court and tribal judicial code were established and enacted after the nonmember left her employment with the tribe. The Ninth Circuit held that, under the circumstances presented here, the tribe has authority to regulate the nonmember employee's conduct at issue pursuant to its inherent power to exclude nonmembers from tribal lands. The panel also held that, in the alternative, the tribe has regulatory authority over the nonmember employee's conduct under both exceptions under Montana v. United States, 450 U.S. 544 (1981). Therefore, given the existence of regulatory authority, the sovereign interests at stake, and the congressional interest in promoting tribal self-government, the panel held that the tribal court had jurisdiction over the tribe's claims. View "Knighton v. Cedarville Rancheria of Northern Paiute Indians" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment to the state in an action brought by Indian tribes under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). California permits certain forms of class III gaming under an effective tribal-state gaming compact. At issue was the termination provision in a 1999 compact. The panel held that the plain language of the IGRA permits tribes and states to negotiate the duration of a compact governing the conduct of a tribe's class III gaming activities. Therefore, the panel held that the termination provision in the compact at issue was not void under the IGRA. View "Chemehuevi Indian Tribe v. Newsom" on Justia Law