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

Articles Posted in Native American Law
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Members of the Metlakatlan Indian Community (“the Community”) and their Tsimshian ancestors have inhabited the coast of the Pacific Northwest and fished in its waters. In 1891, Congress passed a statute (the “1891 Act”) recognizing the Community and establishing the Annette Islands Reserve as its reservation. In 2020, in response to Alaska’s attempt to subject the Metlakatlans to its limited entry program, the Community sued Alaskan officials in federal district court. The Community contended that the 1891 Act grants to the Community and its members the right to fish in the off-reservation waters where Community members have traditionally fished. The district court disagreed, holding that the Act provides no such right.   The Ninth Circuit filed (1) an order amending its opinion, denying a petition for panel rehearing, and denying a petition for rehearing en banc; and (2) an amended opinion reversing the district court’s dismissal of the Metlakatlan Indian Community’s suit against Alaskan officials. The panel applied the Indian canon of construction, which required it to construe the 1891 Act liberally in favor of the Community and to infer rights that supported the purpose of the reservation. At issue was the scope of that right. The panel concluded that a central purpose of the reservation, understood in light of the history of the Community, was that the Metlakatlans would continue to support themselves by fishing. The panel, therefore, held that the 1891 Act preserved for the Community and its members an implied right to non-exclusive off-reservation fishing for personal consumption and ceremonial purposes, as well as for commercial purposes. View "METLAKATLA INDIAN COMMUNITY V. MICHAEL DUNLEAVY, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The Washington State Health Care Authority (“HCA”) and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community petition for review of a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) decision denying Washington’s request to amend Apple Health, the Washington State Medicaid plan (the “State Plan”). HCA petitioned CMS to amend the State Plan to include dental health aide therapists (“DHATs”) on the list of licensed providers who can be reimbursed through Medicaid. CMS rejected the Amended State Plan on the basis that it violates the Medicaid free choice of providers statute and regulation guaranteeing all Medicaid beneficiaries equal access to qualified healthcare professionals willing to treat them. Petitioners challenged this denial.   The Ninth Circuit granted the petition of review. The panel rejected CMS’s reasoning on the ground that the underlying Washington statute—Wash. Rev. Code Section 70.350.020—did not violate Section 1396(a)(23) because it merely authorized where and how DHATs can practice and did not in any way restrict Medicaid recipients’ ability to obtain service from DHATs relative to non-Medicaid recipients. CMS’s rejection of the Amended State Plan was “not in accordance with law.” 5 U.S.C. Section 706(2)(A). Accordingly, the panel granted the petition for review and remanded to the agency with instructions to approve the Amended State Plan. View "WASHINGTON STATE HEALTH CARE A, ET AL V. CENTERS FOR MEDICARE & MEDICAI, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The City of Seattle/Seattle City Light1 (“Seattle”) owns and operates the Gorge Dam, which is part of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project (“Project”). Seattle operates the Project pursuant to a thirty-year license that was issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) in 1995. The Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe (“Tribe”) sued Seattle in Washington state court, alleging that Seattle’s operation of the Gorge Dam without fish passage facilities (“fishways”) violates certain federal and state laws. Seattle removed the case to federal court. The district court denied the Tribe’s motion to remand, finding that it had jurisdiction because the Tribe’s complaint raised substantial federal questions. The district court then granted Seattle’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Federal Power Act (“FPA”) and dismissed the complaint.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the SaukSuiattle Indian Tribe’s motion to remand to state court and the district court’s dismissal. affirmed the district court’s order denying the Tribe’s motion to remand the action to state court. The panel held that the City properly removed the action to federal court under 28 U.S.C. Section 1441(a) because the Tribe’s right to relief depended on resolution of a substantial question of federal law. Applying a four-part test, the panel concluded that the Tribe’s complaint necessarily raised federal issues because it expressly invoked federal laws, and it was uncontested that the federal issues were disputed. The panel also affirmed the district court’s dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the Tribe’s complaint was subject to section 313(b) of the Federal Power Act. View "SAUK-SUIATTLE INDIAN TRIBE V. CITY OF SEATTLE, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (“ISDA”) allowed tribes to run their own healthcare programs, funded by Indian Health Services (“IHS”) in the amount IHS would have spent on a tribe’s health care. Because it was too expensive for the tribes to run the programs, Congress enacted a fix by requiring IHS to provide tribes with CSC—the amount of money a tribe would need to administer its healthcare programs. In addition, Congress allowed the tribes to bill outside insurers directly, and allowed tribes to keep the third-party revenue without diminishing their IHS grants, so long as tribes spent that revenue on health care.The Tribe contends that the IHS must cover those additional CSC. The Tribe filed suit to recover the CSC for program years 2011-2013. The Ninth Circuit held that the text of the governing statute, 25 U.S.C. Sec. 5325(a), compelled reversal and remand for additional proceedings. View "SAN CARLOS APACHE TRIBE V. XAVIER BECERRA, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation have a cross-deputization agreement with the State of Montana under which the Tribes have agreed to commission state police to act as tribal police where there is a gap between their respective criminal jurisdictions. Defendant challenges the validity of the cross-deputization agreement, arguing that the Tribes lack the inherent sovereign authority to enter into a cross-deputization agreement with the State of Montana.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence. The panel emphasized that the cross-deputization agreement deputizes state officers to enforce tribal law, not state law, and emphasized that Congress has expressly provided for the Tribes’ authority to enter into such compacts.   Defendant also argued that the Tribes explicitly conditioned the cross-deputization agreement on federal approval, which they did not receive. The panel did not read the agreement’s use of the word “approve” as giving the Bureau of Indian Affairs veto power over the agreement.   The panel wrote that even if the lack of a signature from the BIA representative on the 2003 amendment to the agreement impaired the validity of the amendment, it would not invalidate the trooper’s commissioned status. The panel wrote that the trooper’s failure to carry an identification card was plainly a violation of the agreement.  The panel noted, however, that none of the sovereign parties to the agreement appears to consider the violation sufficiently serious to seek any remedy for it. View "USA V. ERIC FOWLER" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal, for failure to state a claim, of the Metlakatlan Indian Community’s suit against Alaskan officials, claiming that an 1891 statute granted the Community and its members the right to fish in the off-reservation waters where they had traditionally fished and that they, therefore, were not subject to an Alaska statute’s limited entry program for commercial fishing in waters designated as Districts 1 and 2.   The panel held that the 1891 Act also granted to the Community and its members a nonexclusive right to fish in the off-reservation waters where they had traditionally fished. The panel applied the Indian canon of construction, which required it to construe the 1891 Act liberally in favor of the Community and to infer rights that supported the purpose of the reservation. The panel concluded that a central purpose of the reservation, understood in light of the history of the Community, was that the Metlakatlans would continue to support themselves by fishing. The panel, therefore, held that the 1891 Act preserved for the Community and its members an implied right to non-exclusive off-reservation fishing for personal consumption and ceremonial purposes, as well as for commercial purposes, within Alaska’s Districts 1 and 2, which encompassed waters included in the traditional fishing grounds of the Metlakatlans. View "METLAKATLA INDIAN COMMUNITY V. MICHAEL DUNLEAVY, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The Chickasaw Nation, a sovereign and federally recognized Indian tribe, operates its own healthcare system, which includes five pharmacies. Under federal law, members of federally recognized Native nations are eligible to receive healthcare services at the nations’ facilities at no charge, and a nation may recoup the cost of services that it provides to a tribal member from that member’s health insurance plan. Caremark is the pharmacy benefit manager for health insurance plans that cover many tribal members served by the Chickasaw Nation’s pharmacies. The Nation signed agreements with Caremark. Each of these agreements incorporated by reference a Provider Agreement and a Provider Manual. The Provider Manual included an arbitration provision with a delegation clause requiring the arbitrator, rather than the courts, to resolve threshold issues about the scope and enforceability of the arbitration provision. The Nation sued Caremark, claiming violations of 25 U.S.C. Section 1621e, a provision of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act referred to as the “Recovery Act.”   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order granting the petition to compel arbitration. The court rejected the Nation’s argument that it did not actually form contracts with Caremark that included arbitration provisions with delegation clauses. The court concluded that the premise of the Nation’s argument— that an arbitration agreement always and necessarily waives tribal sovereign immunity—was incorrect. Rather, the arbitration agreement simply designated a forum for resolving disputes for which immunity was waived. View "CAREMARK, LLC V. CHICKASAW NATION" on Justia Law

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A 2014 act of Congress requires the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to convey Oak Flat to a mining company. In exchange, the mining company was to convey a series of nearby plots of land to the United States (the “Land Exchange”).Plaintiff, a nonprofit organization advocating on behalf of Apache American Indians, sued the government, alleging that the Land Exchange violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), the Free Exercise Clause, and the 1852 Treaty of Santa Fe. The district court denied Plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction and Plainitff appealed.On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that, although the government's action was burdensome, it did not create a "substantial burden" under the RFRA. Next, the court held that the Plaintiff's Free-Exercise claim failed because the Land Exchange was neutral in that its object was not to infringe upon the Apache’s religious practices. Finally, the court held that Plaintiff could not establish that the Treaty of Santa Fe imposes an enforceable trust obligation on the United States. Thus, the court affirmed the district court’s order denying Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction. View "APACHE STRONGHOLD V. USA" on Justia Law

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In a series of appeals concerning a business lease which Defendant Wapato Heritage, LLC, once held on waterfront land within the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington State, the Ninth Circuit affirmed (1) the district court’s dismissal of Wapato Heritage cross-claims against the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs; and (2) the district court’s denial of Wapato Heritage’s motion to intervene in a trespass damages trial between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other parties. The district court dismissed Wapato Heritage’s cross-claims against the Tribes and the BIA because of tribal sovereign immunity, lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and failure to state a claim   The court explained the instances where tribal participation in litigation will constitute a waiver of tribal sovereign immunity must be viewed as very limited exceptions to the general rule that preserves tribal sovereign immunity absent an unequivocal expression of waiver in clear terms. Here, the Tribes did not waive their sovereign immunity to Wapato Heritage’s cross-claims as to the 2009 and 2014 replacement leases. The Tribes invoked their immunity from suit in two Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) motions to dismiss Wapato Heritage’s cross-claims for lack of jurisdiction, which was granted. The Tribes retained their sovereign immunity to the cross-claims, and the district court did not need to rule on the claims’ merits. The court rejected Wapato Heritage’s contention that the appeal did not relate to Indian Trust land, finding that MA-8 was still Indian allotment land held in trust by the BIA. View "PAUL GRONDAL V. USA" on Justia Law

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CashCall made unsecured, high-interest loans to consumers throughout the country, and sought to avoid state usury and licensing laws by using an entity operating on an Indian reservation. The entity issued loan agreements that contained a choice-of-law provision calling for the application of tribal law. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau brought an action alleging that the scheme was an “unfair, deceptive, or abusive act or abusive practice.” 12 U.S.C. Section 5536(a)(1)(B). The district court held that CashCall violated the Consumer Financial Protection Act (“CFPA”).   The court first considered whether the Bureau lacked authority to bring this action because it was unconstitutionally structured. The court found despite the unconstitutional limitation on the President’s authority to remove the Bureau’s Director, the Director’s actions were valid when they were taken. Both the complaint and the notice of appeal were filed while the Bureau was headed by a lawfully appointed Director. The court declined to consider CashCall’s new theory that the Bureau’s structure violated the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution.   Next, the court held that the Tribe had no substantial relationship to the transactions, and because there was no other reasonable basis for the parties’ choice of tribal law, the district court correctly declined to give effect to the choice-of-law provision in the loan agreements. The court concluded that from September 2013, the danger that CashCall’s conduct violated the CFPA was so obvious that CashCall must have been aware of it. The court vacated the civil penalty and remanded with instructions that the district court reassess it. View "CFPB V. CASHCALL, INC." on Justia Law