Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Native American Law
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Under the Arizona-Florida Land Exchange Act (AFLEA), 102 Stat. 4571, 72 acres of the Phoenix Indian School Property were conveyed to Collier in exchange for Collier’s Florida lands plus $34.9 million. The Arizona InterTribal Trust Fund (AITF) was established for the benefit of ITCA-member Arizona tribes for “the cash amount required to be paid . . . by Collier upon closing.” In 1991, over ITCA's objections, the Secretary of the Interior agreed to allow Collier to make annual payments rather than full payment at closing. For several years, the Government released its liens on the Phoenix property. In 2013, Collier stated its intent to “no longer make payments” because the value of the remaining 15-acre Phoenix Property had decreased. Under a 2017 settlement agreement, Collier paid $16 million to the Government, which then sold the 15-acre Property for $18.5 million. ITCA sued, alleging that the Government breached its AFLEA fiduciary duties.The Claims Court dismissed in part. The Federal Circuit reversed in part. The Claims Court erred in dismissing the failure-to-maintain-sufficient-security portion of Claim I but properly dismissed the portion of that claim regarding the Government’s alleged failure to ensure adequate security when it negotiated the TFPA. The court properly dismissed Claim II, which alleged that the AFLEA “required the [Government] to collect from Collier all Trust Fund Payments required under the [AFLEA], and that the [Government’s] failure to collect all of the payments is a breach of trust.” View "Inter-tribal Council of Arizona v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Klamath River Basin Reclamation Project straddles the Oregon-California border and provides water to hundreds of farms. The Project is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation. In 2001, the Bureau temporarily halted water delivery to farms and water districts in order to comply with its tribal trust obligations under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1531. Plaintiffs alleged that action amounted to a taking without compensation, impaired their rights under the Klamath River Basin Compact, and caused the breach of water delivery contracts. The Claims Court rejected the suit on summary judgment. On remand, the Claims Court dismissed the breach of contract claims, determined that the takings claims should be analyzed as “physical takings,” and held a trial. The districts had been voluntarily dismissed as plaintiffs. As to the individual farmers, the Claims Court held that the Bureau’s actions did not amount to a taking and did not violate the Compact because the rights reserved for tribal fishing were superior. The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding the plaintiffs’ state water rights subordinate to the federal tribal rights, which were recognized in an 1864 treaty. The Bureau acted reasonably to preserve water levels necessary to avoid endangering fish. View "Baley v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Moodys leased Pine Ridge Indian Reservation parcels for agriculture. The government has a trust responsibility for Indian agricultural lands, 25 U.S.C. 3701(2). The Secretary of the Interior is authorized to participate in the management of such lands, with the participation of the beneficial owners and has delegated some responsibilities to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). BIA regulations generally allow Indian landowners to enter into agricultural leases with BIA approval. Each Moody lease defined “the Indian or Indians” as the “LESSOR.” The Claims Court concluded that the Oglala Sioux Tribe signed the leases. Other lease provisions distinguished between the lease parties and the Secretary of the Interior/United States. Issues arose in 2012. The BIA sent letters canceling the leases, noting that the Moodys could appeal the decision to the Regional Director. Within the 30-day appeal period, the Moodys returned with a cashier’s check in the proper amount, which the BIA accepted. The BIA informed the Moodys that they need not appeal, could continue farming, and did not require written confirmation. Subsequently, the Moodys received trespass notices and were instructed to vacate, which they did. The Moodys did not appeal within the BIA but sued the government. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal of the written contract claims for lack of jurisdiction because the government was not a party to the leases, for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because the Moodys did not have implied-in-fact contracts with the government, and for failure to raise a cognizable takings claim because their claim was based on the government’s alleged violation of applicable regulations. View "Moody v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Missouri River overlies the western boundary of South Dakota's Crow Creek Indian Reservation, established in 1863. Under the Supreme Court’s 1908 “Winters” decision, the creation of a Reservation carries an implied right to unappropriated water “to the extent needed to accomplish the purpose of the reservation.” The Tribe possesses “Winters rights.” The Tribe sued, seeking $200 million in damages for the taking of its water rights. The complaint notes the federal Pick-Sloan flood control project on the River, with construction of the Fort Randall and Big Bend Dams; a 1996 statute that established a trust fund for the Tribe, funded with $27.5 million in hydroelectric-power revenue from Pick-Sloan; a 2012 settlement between the Tribe and the government, unrelated to water rights; and the generally poor economic prospects of the Reservation; it alleged that the government breached its fiduciary duty to “[a]ppropriately manag[e] the natural resources" of the Reservation, 25 U.S.C. 162a(d)(8). The complaint did not allege that the government’s actions deprived the Tribe of sufficient water to fulfill the reservation’s purposes or that those actions would cause the Tribe to lack sufficient water in the future. The Claims Court dismissed, stating that the complaint did not suggest that the Tribe is experiencing a water shortage and that it could not identify an injury "that has yet occurred.” The Federal Circuit affirmed, concluding that the Tribe failed to even allege that it has suffered the requisite injury in fact. View "Crow Creek Sioux Tribe v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1999, Native American farmers sued, alleging that the USDA had discriminated against them with respect to farm loans and other benefits. The court certified a class, including LaBatte, a farmer and member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe. Under a settlement, the government would provide a $680 million compensation fund. The Track A claims process was limited to claimants seeking standard payments of $50,000. Track A did not require proof of discrimination. Under Track B, a claimant could seek up to $250,000 by establishing that his treatment by USDA was "less favorable than that accorded a specifically identified, similarly situated white farmer(s),” which could be established “by a credible sworn statement based on personal knowledge by an individual who is not a member of the Claimant’s family.” A "Neutral" would review the record without a hearing; there was no appeal of the decision. LaBatte's Track B claim identified two individuals who had personal knowledge of the USDA’s treatment of similarly-situated white farmers. Both worked for the government's Bureau of Indian Affairs. Before LaBatte could finalize their declarations, the government directed the two not to sign the declarations. The Neutral denied LaBatte’s claim. The Claims Court affirmed the dismissal of LaBatte’s appeal, acknowledging that it had jurisdiction over breach of settlement claims, but concluding that it lacked jurisdiction over LaBatte’s case because LaBatte had, in the Track B process, waived his right to judicial review to challenge the breach of the agreement. The Federal Circuit reversed. There is no language in the agreement that suggests that breach of the agreement would not give rise to a new cause of action. View "LaBatte v. United States" on Justia Law

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Allergan’s Restasis Patents relate to a treatment for alleviating the symptoms of chronic dry eye. In 2015, Allergan sued, alleging infringement of the Restasis Patents based on Mylan’s filings of Abbreviated New Drug Applications. Mylan, Teva, and Akorn sought inter partes review of the patents. The Patent Board instituted IPR and scheduled a consolidated oral hearing. Before the hearing, Allergan and the Tribe entered into an agreement Mylan alleges was intended to protect the patents from review. A patent assignment transferring the Restasis patents from Allergan to the Tribe was recorded with the Patent Office. The Tribe moved to terminate the IPRs, arguing it is entitled to assert tribal sovereign immunity; Allergan moved to withdraw. The Board denied both motions. The Federal Circuit affirmed. IPR is neither clearly a judicial proceeding instituted by a private party nor clearly an enforcement action brought by the federal government: tribal sovereign immunity may not be asserted in IPR proceedings. View "Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe v. Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc." on Justia Law

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Under the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA), 25 U.S.C. 4101–4243, tribes receive direct funding to provide affordable housing to their members. Grants are based on factors including “[t]he number of low-income housing dwelling units . . . owned or operated” by the tribes on NAHASDA’s effective date. Grantees are limited in how and when they may dispense the funds. The Tribes received NAHASDA block grants. In 2001, a HUD Inspector General report concluded that HUD had improperly allocated their funds because the formula applied by HUD had included housing that did not qualify. HUD provided the Tribes with the opportunity to dispute HUD’s findings, then eliminated the ineligible units from the data and deducted the amount overfunded from subsequent allocations. The Tribes brought suit under the Tucker Act and Indian Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1) and 1505. The Claims Court held that NAHASDA is money mandating, but that the failure to give a hearing alone did not support an illegal exaction claim. Because the finding that NAHASDA is money-mandating was dispositive concerning jurisdiction, the government filed an interlocutory appeal. The Federal Circuit vacated and ordered dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.The underlying claim is not for presently due money damages but is for larger strings-attached NAHASDA grants—including subsequent supervision and adjustment—and, therefore, for equitable relief. NAHASDA does not authorize a free and clear transfer of money. View "Lummi Tribe v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Wyandot Nation of Kansas, a Native American tribe allegedly tracing its ancestry to the Historic Wyandot Nation, claims to be a federally recognized Indian tribe and a successor-in-interest to treaties between the Historic Wyandot Nation and the United States. Wyandot Nation filed suit, alleging that the government had breached its trust and fiduciary obligations with respect to trusts that resulted from those treaties, including one related to amounts payable under an 1867 treaty and one related to the Huron Cemetery. The Court of Federal Claims dismissed for lack of jurisdiction and standing. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Tribal recognition is within the primary jurisdiction of the Department of Interior; a court cannot independently make a determination of the effects of the various treaties or resolve the various conflicting legal and factual contentions. Wyandot Nation petitioned the Department of Interior in 1996 for federal recognition pursuant to the List Act regulations. Interior preliminarily determined that “the Wyandot Nation of Kansas, which consists of the descendants of the citizen Wyandotts of Kansas terminated in 1855, [does not qualify for] Federal acknowledgment through the administrative process and can only become a Federally recognized Indian Tribe by an act of Congress.” The Nation did not pursue further administrative or judicial review. View "Wyandot Nation of Kansas v. United States" on Justia Law

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Utah Trooper Swenson attempted to stop a car near the Uncompahgre Ute Reservation. The car entered the reservation. About 25 miles later, it stopped. Kurip, age 17, and Murray emerged and ran. Swenson caught Kurip and requested back-up. Vernal City Officer Norton and others responded. Norton claims that Murray shot at Norton, then shot himself. The officers found an illegally-purchased gun near Murray. No officer administered medical assistance to Murray while waiting for an ambulance. FBI agents took charge, and, with local officers, allegedly denied a tribal officer access. After Murray was declared dead (off-reservation), an officer allegedly photographed Murray nude and manipulated his remains. After an external examination, the medical examiner concluded that the bullet entered the back of Murray’s head, above and behind his left ear. Murray was right-handed. No soot was found on Murray’s hands. When the investigation into the gun concluded, the FBI destroyed it. Plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court held that there was no seizure, that the pursuit was reasonable, and that Murray had fired at Norton. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. Meanwhile, plaintiffs sued the United States in the Claims Court, alleging violations of an 1868 Treaty and of the government’s trust obligations. The Claims Court concluded that the Treaty was limited to affirmative criminal acts committed on reservation lands and dismissed allegations regarding failure to take custody of and secure Murray’s body against desecration, spoliation of evidence, failure to ensure a proper autopsy, and failure to protect the Tribe’s reservation boundary and sovereign interest in the crime scene. The court found allegations concerning acts on the reservation barred by issue preclusion. The Federal Circuit vacated. The Claims Court improperly limited the scope of claims cognizable under the Treaty and erred in applying issue preclusion without considering a spoliation issue. View "Jones v. United States" on Justia Law

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Under the 1887 General Allotment Act and the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, the U.S. is the trustee of Indian allotment land. A 1996 class action, filed on behalf of 300,000 Native Americans, alleged that the government had mismanaged their Individual Indian Money accounts by failing to account for billions of dollars from leases for oil extractions and logging. The litigation’s 2011 settlement provided for “historical accounting claims,” tied to that mismanagement, and “land administration claims” for individuals that held, on September 30, 2009, an ownership interest in land held in trust or restricted status, claiming breach of trust and fiduciary mismanagement of land, oil, natural gas, mineral, timber, grazing, water and other resources. Members of the land administration class who failed to opt out were deemed to have waived any claims within the scope of the settlement. The Claims Resolution Act of 2010 ratified the settlement and funded it with $3.4 billion, The court provided notice, including of the opt-out right. Challenges to the opt-out and notice provisions were rejected. Indian allotees with interests in the North Dakota Fort Berthold Reservation, located on the Bakken Oil Shale (contiguous deposits of oil and natural gas), cannot lease their oil-and-gas interests unless the Secretary approves the lease as “in the best interest of the Indian owners,” 122 Stat. 620 (1998). In 2013, allotees sued, alleging that, in 2006-2009, a company obtained Fort Berthold allotment leases at below-market rates, then resold them for a profit of $900 million. The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the government, holding that the allotees had forfeited their claims by failing to opt out of the earlier settlement. View "Two Shields v. United States" on Justia Law