Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Native American Law
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This case arose from a long-running irrigation-water dispute between Plaintiff Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation and Defendant Gregory McKee, who was not a member of the Tribe. Defendant owned non-Indian fee land within the Ute reservation’s exterior boundaries and used water from two irrigation canals flowing through his property. Plaintiff claimed the water belonged to the United States in trust for the Tribe. Plaintiff sued Defendant in the Ute tribal court, alleging that Defendant had been diverting the Tribe’s water for years, and won. Plaintiff then petitioned the district court to recognize and enforce the tribal-court judgment. But the district court dismissed the case after holding that the tribal court lacked jurisdiction to enter its judgment. Because the Tenth Circuit also concluded the tribal court lacked jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s dispute with a nonmember of the Tribe arising on non-Indian fee lands, it affirmed. View "Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah v. McKee, et al." on Justia Law

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M.G. (Mother) appealed the termination of her parental rights to her 11-year-old daughter, A.R., and her 10-year-old son, C.R., and placing them in a permanent plan of adoption by their paternal grandparents. M.G. did not challenge the merits of the order; instead, she argued it had to be reversed because the Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA) failed to conduct an inquiry into whether the children had Native American ancestry, as required by the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Court of Appeal found an ICWA inquiry should be conducted in every case. "The tribes have a compelling, legally protected interest in the inquiry itself. It is only by ensuring that the issue of Native American ancestry is addressed in every case that we can ensure the collective interests of the Native American tribes will be protected. Thus, the failure to conduct the inquiry in each case constitutes a miscarriage of justice." In the interest of limiting any further delay, the Court conditionally reversed and remanded the case with instructions that SSA conduct the inquiry immediately, and that the trial court likewise resolve the issue as soon as possible. If the initial inquiry revealed no Native American heritage, then the judgment would be reinstated forthwith. View "In re A.R." on Justia Law

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The sole issue in this appeal of the termination of parental rights was whether San Bernardino County Children and Family Services (CFS) conducted further inquiry into whether the Indian Child Welfare Act’s (ICWA) applied if there was “reason to believe” an Indian child was involved in the dependency proceedings involving nine-year-old K.T. and his two-year-old sister, D. Early on in the case, the children’s mother and K.T.’s father (father) reported they had possible Cherokee, Choctaw, and Blackfeet ancestry and gave CFS contact information for family members who might be able to provide more detail. CFS never followed up, and the juvenile court found ICWA didn’t apply without first ensuring CFS had pursued these leads. About two years into the proceedings, after the parents failed to reunify with the children, the court determined they were likely to be adopted and terminated parental rights. On appeal, mother and father argued that despite having reason to believe K.T. and D. were Indian children, CFS failed to conduct adequate further inquiry to determine whether ICWA applies. CFS conceded their error. As a result, the record did not support the juvenile court’s finding that ICWA did not apply, and the Court of Appeal reversed the orders terminating parental rights and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "In re K.T." on Justia Law

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The Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation (“the Tribe”) temporarily banished Angelita Chegup, Tara Amboh, Mary Jenkins, and Lynda Kozlowicz (“the banished members”). The banished members did not challenge their temporary banishment in a tribal forum, but instead sought relief in federal court by filing a petition for habeas corpus. The banished members contended that, because they were excluded from the reservation by virtue of their banishment, they were “detained” within the meaning of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 (“ICRA”). The district court disagreed and dismissed the suit without considering the Tribe’s alternative position: that the court could not consider the claims at all because the banished members failed to exhaust their tribal remedies. On appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concurred with the district court: "Even though tribal exhaustion is non-jurisdictional, and courts may often choose between threshold grounds for denying relief, we think that under the unique circumstances of this case there was a right choice." Because the district court neither began its analysis with tribal exhaustion nor reached that issue in the alternative, the Tenth Circuit remanded for it to be decided in the first instance. View "Chegup, et al. v. Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah, et al." on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a contract dispute between Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation (the Tribe) and Lynn Becker, a non-Indian. The contract concerned Becker’s work marketing and developing the Tribe’s mineral resources on the Ute reservation. Becker sued the Tribe in Utah state court for allegedly breaching the contract by failing to pay him a percentage of certain revenue the Tribe received from its mineral holdings. Later, the Tribe filed this lawsuit, challenging the state court’s subject-matter jurisdiction under federal law. The district court denied the Tribe’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the state-court proceedings, and the Tribe appealed. After its review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding the Tribe was entitled to injunctive relief. The appellate court found the trial court’s factual findings established that Becker’s state-court claims arose on the reservation because no substantial part of the conduct supporting them occurred elsewhere. And because the claims arose on the reservation, the state court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction absent congressional authorization. Accordingly, under the particular circumstances of this appeal, the Tenth Circuit "close[d] this chapter in Becker’s dispute with the Tribe by ordering the district court to permanently enjoin the state-court proceedings." View "Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah, et al. v. Lawrence, et al." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's orders denying defendants' motion to set aside a default judgment and awarding attorney fees to plaintiffs in an action concerning governance of Newtok Village, a federally recognized Alaskan Native tribe. The panel held that subject matter jurisdiction has not been shown where plaintiffs' claims as pleaded simply do not arise under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. Nor is a substantial question of federal law present. The panel concluded that the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA), which confers jurisdiction on federal district courts to hear disputes regarding self-determination contracts, applies only to suits by Indian tribes or tribal organizations against the United States, and does not authorize an action by a tribe against tribal members. The panel explained that, as currently framed, this case does not arise under federal law and must therefore be dismissed without prejudice to permit amendment under a proper basis of federal jurisdiction. Furthermore, the district court did not have the power to award plaintiffs its attorney fees in the first instance. View "Newtok Village v. Patrick" on Justia Law

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Blue Lake, a federally-recognized Tribal Nation, sued Acres and his company in Tribal Court over a business dispute involving a casino gaming system. Acres prevailed in tribal court. Acres then brought suit in federal court against the tribal judge, tribal officials, employees, and casino executives and lawyers who assisted the tribal court, and Blue Lake’s outside lawyers, alleging malicious prosecution, with allegations under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1961. According to the complaint, “Blue Lake and its confederates sought ruinous judgments, within a court they controlled, before a judge they suborned, on conjured claims of fraud and breach of contract.” The district court concluded that tribal sovereign immunity shielded all of the defendants.The Ninth Circuit reversed in part, holding that tribal sovereign immunity did not apply because Acres sought damages from the defendants in their individual capacities; the Tribe was not the real party in interest. Some of the defendants were entitled to absolute personal immunity; the district court properly dismissed Acres’s claims against them on that basis. The Blue Lake judge, law clerks, and the tribal court clerk were entitled to absolute judicial or quasi-judicial immunity. The court remanded for further proceedings as to the remaining defendants not entitled to absolute personal immunity. View "Acres Bonusing, Inc. v. Marston" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two American Indian tribes, business entities affiliated with the tribes, and individual tribe members, sued a number of non-tribal cardrooms alleging they were offering banked card games on non-tribal land, in violation of the exclusive right of Indian tribes to offer such games. Based on those allegations, plaintiffs asserted claims for public nuisance, unfair competition, declaratory and injunctive relief, and tortious interference with a contractual relationship and prospective economic advantage. The defendants demurred and, after two rounds of amendments to the complaint, the trial court sustained the third and final demurrer without leave to amend and entered judgment of dismissal. The court ruled that, as governmental entities, the Indian tribes and their affiliated business entities were not “persons” with standing to sue under the unfair competition law (UCL), and were not “private person[s]” with standing under the public nuisance statutes. The court further ruled the business entities and the individual tribe members failed to plead sufficient injury to themselves to establish standing to sue under the UCL or the public nuisance statutes. Although plaintiffs broadly framed the issue on appeal as whether they, as American Indians, had standing to redress their grievances in California state courts, the Court of Appeal determined it was much narrower: whether the complaint in this case adequately plead the asserted claims and contained allegations sufficient to establish the threshold issue of whether any of the named plaintiffs had standing to bring those claims. The Court agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that the complaint did not do so and, therefore, affirmed judgment in favor of the defendants. View "Rincon Band of Luiseno Mission Indians etc. v. Flynt" on Justia Law

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After the Tribe refused to pay Findleton for construction work and rental services provided for a casino it was building and infrastructure for the reservation, Findleton invoked the ADR provisions of the agreements. The Tribe refused to mediate. Findleton filed a petition, seeking to compel mediation and arbitration.The court of appeal held the Tribe had expressly waived its sovereign immunity. The trial court entered an order compelling mediation and arbitration in accordance with the rules of the American Arbitration Association (AAA), the firm chosen by the Tribe. The Tribe nonetheless refused to mediate, threatened to disparage AAA if it proceeded, and persuaded a recently-established tribal court to issue an injunction. AAA then declined to mediate the dispute.The superior court awarded Findleton attorney fees and costs and imposed monetary sanctions—none of which the Tribe has paid. It issued writs of execution and orders to appear for examination. The Tribe’s representatives repeatedly refused to answer questions about casino assets, impeded the examination by filling the room with tribal members who engaged in a vocal demonstration, and transferred casino assets to a corporate entity—the superior court found a fraudulent transfer.The Tribe sought to appeal the orders. The court of appeal dismissed the appeals, citing the disentitlement doctrine based on the Tribe’s flagrant, repeated, and continuous violation of court orders. View "Findleton v. Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians" on Justia Law

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In 2017, Andeavor agreed with the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, known as the Three Affiliated Tribes, to renew the right-of-way over tribal lands, and to pay trespass damages for continued operation of an oil pipeline after expiration. Andeavor then began renewal negotiations with individual Indian landowners. In 2018, the Allottees filed a putative class action seeking compensatory and punitive damages for ongoing trespass and injunctive relief requiring Andeavor to dismantle the pipeline. The district court granted Andeavor's motion to dismiss, concluding that the Allottees failed to exhaust administrative remedies with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).The Eighth Circuit concluded that the case turns on issues sufficiently within the primary jurisdiction of the BIA to warrant a stay, rather than dismissal, to give the BIA opportunity to take further action. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. The court denied the Allottees' motion to dismiss Robin Fredericks as a plaintiff. View "Chase v. Andeavor Logistics, L.P." on Justia Law