Articles Posted in Native American Law

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The Lewises, driving on a Connecticut interstate, were struck by a vehicle driven by Clarke, a Tribal Gaming Authority employee, who was transporting Mohegan Sun Casino patrons. The Lewises sued Clarke in his individual capacity. The Supreme Court of Connecticut held that tribal sovereign immunity barred the suit because Clarke was acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred and did not consider whether Clarke should be entitled to sovereign immunity based on an indemnification statute. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed. In a suit against a tribal employee in his individual capacity, the employee, not the tribe, is the real party in interest; tribal sovereign immunity is not implicated. The suit is based on Clarke's personal actions. Clarke, not the Gaming Authority, is the real party in interest. The Connecticut Supreme Court extended sovereign immunity for tribal employees beyond what common-law sovereign immunity principles would recognize for either state or federal employees. An indemnification provision cannot, as a matter of law, extend sovereign immunity to individual employees who would otherwise not fall under its protective cloak. Connecticut courts exercise no jurisdiction over the Tribe or Gaming Authority and indemnification is not a certainty, because Clarke will not be indemnified should the Gaming Authority determine that he engaged in “wanton, reckless, or malicious” activity. View "Lewis v. Clarke" on Justia Law

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Enacted in response to the high incidence of domestic violence against Native American women, 18 U.S.C. 117(a), applies to any person who “commits a domestic assault within . . . Indian country” and who has at least two prior convictions for domestic violence rendered “in Federal, State, or Indian tribal court proceedings.” The Sixth Amendment guarantees indigent defendants appointed counsel in state or federal proceedings in which a term of imprisonment is imposed, but does not apply in tribal-court proceedings. The Indian Civil Rights Act, (ICRA) which governs tribal-court proceedings, includes a right to appointed counsel only for sentences exceeding one year, 25 U.S.C. 1302(c)(2). Supreme Court precedent holds that convictions obtained in state or federal court in violation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel cannot be used in subsequent proceedings “to support guilt or enhance punishment for another offense” except for uncounseled misdemeanor convictions for which no prison term was imposed. The Ninth Circuit reversed Bryant’s section 117(a) conviction, finding that the Sixth Amendment precluded use of his prior, uncounseled, tribal-court convictions a predicate offenses. The Supreme Court reversed. Because Bryant’s tribal-court convictions complied with ICRA and were valid when entered, use of those convictions as predicate offenses in a section 117(a) prosecution does not violate the Constitution. Bryant’s sentence for violating section 117(a) punishes his most recent acts of domestic assault, not his prior crimes. He suffered no Sixth Amendment violation in tribal court, so he cannot “suffe[r] anew” from a prior deprivation. ICRA sufficiently ensures the reliability of tribal-court convictions, guaranteeing “due process of law,” providing other procedural safeguards, and allowing a prisoner to challenge the fundamental fairness of proceedings in federal habeas proceedings. View "United States v. Bryant" on Justia Law

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In 1854, the Omaha Tribe entered into a treaty with the United States to establish a 300,000-acre reservation and to “cede” and “forever relinquish all right and title to” its remaining land in present-day Nebraska for a fixed price. In 1865, the Tribe entered into another treaty, agreeing to sell land to the government for a fixed sum. In 1872, the Tribe sought to sell more land. Instead of a fixed-sum purchase, Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to survey, appraise, and sell tracts of reservation land to settlers and to deposit proceeds with the Treasury for the Tribe’s benefit. Congress took the same approach in 1882 with respect to roughly 50,000 acres of reservation land (22 Stat. 341). Peebles purchased land under the terms of the 1882 Act and established the village of Pender. In 2006, the Tribe sought to subject Pender retailers to tits amended beverage control ordinance pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 1161 (permitting tribes to regulate liquor sales on reservation land and in “Indian country”). Concluding that the 1882 Act did not diminish the Reservation, the district court ruled in favor of the Tribe. The Eighth Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed. Only Congress may diminish the boundaries of an Indian reservation, and its intent to do so must be clear. The 1882 Act had none of the common textual indications that express clear intent, but falls into a category of surplus land acts that “merely opened reservation land to settlement.” Although the Tribe has been absent from the disputed territory for more than 120 years, the Court stated that subsequent demographic history is the “least compelling” evidence; the justifiable expectations of non-Indians living on the land cannot alone diminish reservation boundaries. View "Nebraska v. Parker" on Justia Law

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The Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin contracted with the Indian Health Service (IHS) to operate what would otherwise have been a federal program, pursuant to the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA), 25 U.S.C. 450f, 450j–1(a). After other tribes successfully litigated complaints against the government for failing to honor its obligation to pay contract support costs, the Menominee Tribe presented its own claims to the IHS under the Contract Disputes Act. The contracting officer denied some claims as not presented within the CDA’s 6-year limitations period. The Tribe argued that the limitations period should be tolled for the two years in which a putative class action, brought by tribes with parallel complaints, was pending. The district court denied the equitable-tolling claim. The Court of Appeals and Supreme Court affirmed, holding that no extraordinary circumstances caused the delay. To be entitled to equitable tolling of a statute of limitations, a litigant must establish both that he has been pursuing his rights diligently and that some extraordinary circumstances prevented timely filing. The Court rejected the Tribe’s argument that diligence and extraordinary circumstances should be considered together as factors in a unitary test. The “extraordinary circumstances” prong is met only where the circumstances that caused the delay are both extraordinary and beyond the litigant’s control. The Tribe had unilateral authority to present its claims in a timely manner. Any significant risk and expense associated with litigating its claims were far from extraordinary. View "Menominee Tribe of Wis. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The State of Michigan entered into a compact with the Bay Mills Indian Community pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), 25 U.S.C. 2710(d)(1)(C). The compact authorizes Bay Mills to conduct class III gaming activities (a casino) on Indian lands within the state, but prohibits it from doing so outside that territory. Bay Mills opened a second casino on land it had purchased through a congressionally established land trust. The Tribe claimed it could operate a casino there because the property qualified as Indian land. Michigan sued under section 2710(d)(7)(A)(ii), which allows a state to enjoin gaming activity conducted in violation of any tribal-state compact. The district court granted the injunction, but the Sixth Circuit vacated, holding that tribal sovereign immunity barred the suit unless Congress provided otherwise; section 2710(d)(7)(A)(ii) only authorized suits to enjoin gaming activity located “on Indian lands,” while the complaint alleged the casino was outside such territory. The Supreme Court affirmed. As “domestic dependent nations,” Indian tribes exercise “inherent sovereign authority” that is subject to plenary control by Congress; unless Congress acts, the tribes retain their historic sovereign authority. Among the core aspects of that sovereignty is “common-law immunity from suit traditionally enjoyed by sovereign powers,” which applies whether a suit is brought by a state or arises from a tribe’s commercial activities off Indian lands. IGRA’s plain terms do not authorize this suit. Section 2710(d)(7)(A)(ii) partially abrogates tribal immunity with respect to class III gaming located “on Indian lands,” but the premise of Michigan’s suit is that Bay Mills’ casino is unlawful because it is outside Indian lands. Michigan argues that the casino is licensed and operated from within the reservation and that such administrative action constitutes “class III gaming activity.” IGRA’s provisions and history indicate that “class III gaming activity” refers to the gambling that goes on in a casino, not the offsite licensing of such games. View "Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Cmty" on Justia Law

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The State of Michigan entered into a compact with the Bay Mills Indian Community pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), 25 U.S.C. 2710(d)(1)(C). The compact authorizes Bay Mills to conduct class III gaming activities (a casino) on Indian lands within the state, but prohibits it from doing so outside that territory. Bay Mills opened a second casino on land it had purchased through a congressionally established land trust. The Tribe claimed it could operate a casino there because the property qualified as Indian land. Michigan sued under section 2710(d)(7)(A)(ii), which allows a state to enjoin gaming activity conducted in violation of any tribal-state compact. The district court granted the injunction, but the Sixth Circuit vacated, holding that tribal sovereign immunity barred the suit unless Congress provided otherwise; section 2710(d)(7)(A)(ii) only authorized suits to enjoin gaming activity located “on Indian lands,” while the complaint alleged the casino was outside such territory. The Supreme Court affirmed. As “domestic dependent nations,” Indian tribes exercise “inherent sovereign authority” that is subject to plenary control by Congress; unless Congress acts, the tribes retain their historic sovereign authority. Among the core aspects of that sovereignty is “common-law immunity from suit traditionally enjoyed by sovereign powers,” which applies whether a suit is brought by a state or arises from a tribe’s commercial activities off Indian lands. IGRA’s plain terms do not authorize this suit. Section 2710(d)(7)(A)(ii) partially abrogates tribal immunity with respect to class III gaming located “on Indian lands,” but the premise of Michigan’s suit is that Bay Mills’ casino is unlawful because it is outside Indian lands. Michigan argues that the casino is licensed and operated from within the reservation and that such administrative action constitutes “class III gaming activity.” IGRA’s provisions and history indicate that “class III gaming activity” refers to the gambling that goes on in a casino, not the offsite licensing of such games. View "Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Cmty" on Justia Law

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The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) establishes federal standards for state-court custody proceedings involving Indian children. It bars involuntary termination of parental rights absent a heightened showing that serious harm to the Indian child is likely to result from the parent’s “continued custody” of the child, 25 U.S.C. 1912(f); conditions involuntary termination of parental rights on showing that remedial efforts have been made to prevent the “breakup of the Indian family,” (1912(d)); and provides preferences for adoption of Indian children to extended family, members of the tribe, and other Indian families, (1915(a)). Before Baby Girl’s birth, Biological Father, a member of the Cherokee Nation, agreed to relinquish his parental rights. Birth Mother put Baby Girl up for adoption through a private agency and selected non-Indian adoptive parents. During the pregnancy and the first four months of Baby Girl’s life, Biological Father provided no financial assistance. Four months after the birth, Adoptive Couple served Biological Father with notice of the pending adoption. Biological Father sought custody and stated that he did not consent to the adoption. South Carolina Family Court denied the adoption petition and awarded Biological Father custody. At the age of 27 months, Baby Girl was given to Biological Father, whom she had never met. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed, stating that, assuming that Biological Father is a “parent” under the ICWA, that law does not bar termination of his parental rights. “Continued custody” refers to custody that a parent already has or at least has had; section 1912(f) does not apply where the Indian parent never had custody. Section 1912(d) conditions involuntary termination of parental rights on a showing of efforts to prevent the breakup of the Indian family; the section applies only when the “breakup” would be precipitated by terminating parental rights. When an Indian parent abandons an Indian child before birth and that child has never been in that parent’s custody, the “breakup of the Indian family” has long since occurred, and section 1912(d) is inapplicable. Section 1915(a)’s placement preferences are inapplicable if no alternative party has formally sought to adopt the child. Biological Father did not seek to adopt, but only argued that his parental rights should not be terminated. View "Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl" on Justia Law

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Petitioner requested that the Secretary of the Interior take into trust on its behalf a tract of land known as the Bradley Property, which petitioner intended to use "for gaming purposes." The Secretary took title to the property and respondent subsequently filed suit under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 500 et seq., asserting that the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), 25 U.S.C. 465, did not authorize the Secretary to acquire the property because petitioner was not a federally recognized tribe when the IRA was enacted in 1934. At issue was whether the United States had sovereign immunity from the suit by virtue of the Quiet Title Act (QTA), 86 Stat. 1176, and whether respondent had prudential standing to challenge the Secretary's acquisition. The Court held that the United States had waived its sovereign immunity from respondent's action under the QTA. The Court also held that respondent had prudential standing to challenge the Secretary's acquisition where respondent's interests came within section 465's regulatory ambit. View "Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians v. Patchak" on Justia Law

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The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA), 25 U.S.C. 450 et seq., directed the Secretary of the Interior to enter into contracts with willing tribes, pursuant to which those tribes would provide services such as education and law enforcement that otherwise would have been provided by the Federal government. ISDA mandated that the Secretary shall pay the full amount of "contract support costs" incurred by tribes in performing their contracts. At issue was whether the Government must pay those costs when Congress appropriated sufficient funds to pay in full any individual contractor's contract support costs, but not enough funds to cover the aggregate amount due every contractor. The Court held that, consistent with longstanding principles of Government contracting law, the Government must pay each tribe's contract support costs in full. View "Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter" on Justia Law

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The Jicarilla Apache Nation's ("Tribe") reservation contained natural resources that were developed pursuant to statutes administered by the Interior Department and proceeds from these resources were held by the United States in trust for the Tribe. The Tribe filed a breach-of-trust action in the Court of Federal Claims ("CFC") seeking monetary damages for the Government's alleged mismanagement of the Tribe's trust funds in violation of 25 U.S.C. 161-162a and other laws. During discovery, the Tribe moved to compel production of certain documents and the Government agreed to the release of some documents but asserted that others were protected by, inter alia, the attorney-client privilege. At issue was whether the fiduciary exception to the attorney-client privilege applied to the general trust relationship between the United States and Indian tribes. The Court held that the fiduciary exception did not apply where the trust obligations of the United States to the Indian tribes were established and governed by statute rather than the common law and, in fulfilling its statutory duties, the Government acted not as a private trustee but pursuant to its sovereign interest in the execution of federal law. The reasons for the fiduciary exception, that the trustee had no independent interest in trust administration, and that the trustee was subject to a general common-law duty of disclosure, did not apply in this context. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation" on Justia Law