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

Articles Posted in Native American Law
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The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA), 25 U.S.C. 450, authorizes self-determination (Title I) contracts. The Bureau of Indian Affairs reviews proposals for the Secretary of the Interior. A proposal not declined within 90 days is deemed approved. In October 2011, the Tribe wrote to the Bureau’s Office of Self Governance (OSG) requesting several million dollars for public safety, attaching a Resolution authorizing submission of a “Title I Compact Request.” OSG replied that it did not have authority to manage a Title I agreement, copying the Bureau’s Office of Justice Services (OJS), as the appropriate contact. OJS asked the Tribe to clarify whether it was seeking a Title I contract or funding under Title IV. The Tribe emailed OJS, regarding availability to meet "regarding the Title 1 request" and sent two follow-up emails, referencing its “Title 1 request.” On February 1, 2012 the Tribe wrote to OJS, stating that “the contract is deemed approved.” OJS responded that the intent of the October letter was unclear and did not meet self-determination contract proposal requirements. The Tribe again asserted deemed approval. A year later, OJS received a letter titled “Claim for performance of Title I justice services contract pursuant to Contract Disputes Act.” OJS again denied receiving a complete proposal. The Civilian Board of Contracting Appeals dismissed a claim. The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that the Tribe has not been awarded a contract, noting a parallel appeal with the Interior Board of Indian Appeals. View "Yurok Tribe v. Dep't of the Interior" on Justia Law

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In 2005, the Shinnecock Indian Nation filed suit to vindicate its rights to land in the Town of Southampton, claiming that 1859 New York legislation allowed thousands of acres of the Nation’s land to be wrongfully conveyed to the town. The district court dismissed, holding that laches barred the claims. An appeal to the Second Circuit remains pending. In 2012, the Nation filed suit in the Court of Federal Claims, seeking $1,105,000,000, alleging that the United States, “acting through the federal court system . . . denied any and all judicial means of effective redress for the unlawful taking of lands” in violation of trust obligations arising under the Non-Intercourse Act, 25 U.S.C. 177, and the “federal common law.” The Claims Court dismissed on alternative grounds: that the claims were not ripe because they were predicated upon the district court’s judgment in the prior suit, which was on appeal, or that, even if the claims were ripe, it had no jurisdiction because they did not fall within the Indian Tucker Act’s waiver of sovereign immunity. The court refused to allow amendment to allege a judicial takings claim. The Federal Circuit affirmed that the breach of trust claims are not ripe for review, vacated the jurisdiction ruling, and remanded with instructions to dismiss the breach of trust claims without prejudice. View "Shinnecock Indian Nation v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Tribe filed suit against the government seeking damages to cover the cost of providing safe drinking water on the northeastern Arizona Hopi Reservation. The reservation’s public water systems rely on groundwater drawn from subsurface layers of water-bearing rock. The Tribe alleges that the systems serving five communities on the eastern portion of the reservation contain unsafe levels of arsenic that exceed the federally allowed maximum. The Tribe alleges the United States funded and provided technical assistance for the construction of many of those wells. The Tribe owns and operates the public water systems serving four of the communities; the Bureau of Indian Affairs owns and operates the system serving the fifth. To invoke the court’s jurisdiction under the Indian Tucker Act, the Tribe must identify a statute or regulation imposing a specific obligation on the government to provide adequate drinking water that would give rise to a claim for money damages. The Court of Federal Claims concluded that the Tribe failed to do so. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The sources of law relied on by the Tribe do not establish a specific fiduciary obligation on the United States to ensure adequate water quality on the Reservation. View "Hopi Tribe v. United States" on Justia Law

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The federal government holds, in trust for three Indian communities, certain Minnesota land acquired in the late 1800s, with federal funds appropriated for a statutorily identified group of Indians. That beneficiary group and the three present-day communities that grew on the land overlapped but diverged. Many beneficiaries were part of the communities, but many were not; the communities included many outside the beneficiary group. In 1980 Congress addressed resulting land use problems by putting the land into trust for the three communities that had long occupied them. Since then, proceeds earned from the land, including profits from gaming, have gone to the three communities. Descendants of the Indians designated in the original appropriations acts allege that they, rather than the communities, are entitled to benefits. In earlier litigation the Federal Circuit rejected a claim that the appropriations acts created a trust for the benefit of statutorily designated Indians and their descendants. On remand, the Court of Federal Claims rejected several new claims, but found the government liable on a claim for pre-1980 revenues from the lands acquired under the 1888-1890 Acts. The Federal Circuit reversed in part, finding that the descendants had no valid claim. View "Wolfchild v. United States" on Justia Law

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McGuire leased farmland in Arizona from the Colorado River Indian Tribes with approval of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. After the BIA removed a bridge that he used to access portions of the leased property, McGuire filed a Fifth Amendment claim. McGuire does not claim that removal of the bridge was itself a taking, but rather that the BIA’s alleged refusal to authorize replacement of the bridge was a taking of his property rights. The Court of Federal Claims rejected the claim. The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that the regulatory takings claim never ripened because McGuire failed to pursue administrative remedies. Even if McGuire’s claim had ripened, he had no cognizable property interest in the bridge, which he neither possessed nor controlled because it was in a BIA right-of-way. No federal regulation gave him a property interest and he was not entitled to an easement by necessity. View "McGuire v. United States" on Justia Law

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ASNA is an inter-tribal consortium of federally recognized tribes situated in Alaska. In 1996, 1997, and 1998, ASNA contracted with the Department of Health and Human Services, under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act to operate a hospital. ISDA requires the government to pay costs reasonably incurred in managing the programs, 25 U.S.C. 450j-1. There have been three previous class actions concerning payments. One resulted in settlement; in two the courts denied class certification for failure to exhaust administrative remedies because claims had not first been submitted to the contracting officer. ANSA brought its claim, arguing that it was a putative class member in those suits even though it did not individually present claims to the contracting officer within the Contract Disputes Act six-year limitations period and that the limitations period was tolled while those cases were pending. The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals dismissed. The Federal Circuit reversed. The class actions involved similar issues and parties, and put the government on notice of the general nature and legal theory underlying ASNA’s claims. ASNA monitored the legal landscape, took action as appropriate, and reasonably relied upon controlling authority, holding that it did not need to exhaust administrative remedies to be a class member.View "Arctic Slope Native Assoc., Ltd. v. Sebelius" on Justia Law

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The 1868 Laramie Treaty, between tribes of Sioux Indians and the United States, included provisions that: “If bad men among the whites, or among other people subject to the authority of the United States, shall commit any wrong upon the person or property of the Indians, the United States will, upon proof ... proceed at once to cause the offender to be arrested and punished ... and also reimburse the injured person....”´and “If bad men among the Indians shall commit a wrong or depredation upon ...anyone ... subject to the authority of the United States ... the Indians ... will ... deliver up the wrong-doer ... the person injured shall be reimbursed ... from the annuities or other moneys due.” In 2008, two members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe were killed on the Pine Ridge Reservation by a non-Sioux, who was driving while intoxicated. The Claims Court dismissed a claim for reimbursement under the treaties. The Federal Circuit vacated. The “bad men” provisions are not limited to persons acting for or on behalf of the U.S. View "Richard v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Tribes share an interest in a Wyoming Reservation. Consolidated suits, filed in 1979, claimed that the government breached fiduciary and statutory duties by mismanaging the Reservation's natural resources and income derived from exploitation of those resources. The Court of Federal Claims divided the suit into phases. One addressed sand and gravel and has been settled. The other two phases were devoted to oil and gas issues. An issue concerning the Government's failure to collect royalties after October, 1973 has been resolved. The final phase concerned pre-1973 oil and gas royalty collection and a series of discrete oil-and-gas issues. In 2007, the court granted the government judgment on the pleadings, finding that the claim was not filed within six years of the date on which it first accrued. The Federal Circuit vacated, finding that the claim asserted a continuing trespass, so that the Tribes can seek damages for trespasses which occurred within six years of the filing of this suit and all trespasses that occurred after the filing of this suit. The Tribes must establish that the government had a duty to eject trespassers from the parcels. View "Shoshone Indian Tribe v. United States" on Justia Law

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Since 2001 the company has provided professional training, curriculum development, and technical assistance to schools, teachers, and administrators to schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The BIA funds its program directly through BIA contracts with a provider and indirectly through distribution of funds under the No Child Left Behind Act, 20 U.S.C. 6301, to BIA schools, which contract with a provider. The company sought payment from the BIA for specific time periods. The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals dismissed, finding that it did not have jurisdiction under the Contract Disputes Act, 41 U.S.C. 601, because the company failed to establish that it had a contract with the government for the unpaid services. The Federal Circuit vacated, in part, dismissal on jurisdictional grounds. Failure to establish the existence of a contract meant that the company failed to state an element of its claim, not that the court lacked jurisdiction. Questions of fact concerning some of the claimed contracts remain unresolved.

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The Court of Federal Claims dismissed, for lack of jurisdiction, the most recent claims brought by the Samish Indian Nation in its continuing quest for federal recognition and benefits. The claims court reasoned that some of the allegations were not premised upon any statute that was money-mandating, and that allegations reliant on money-mandating statutes were limited by other statutes, so that they fell outside the scope of the Tucker Act (28 U.S.C. 1491(a)) and the Indian Tucker Act (28 U.S.C. 1505). The Federal Circuit affirmed with respect to some of the allegations because the Tribal Priority Allocation system (25 CFR 46.2) is not money-mandating. The court reversed dismissal of claims under the Revenue Sharing Act, reasoning that the court's ability to provide a monetary remedy under that law is not limited by operation of the Anti-Deficiency Act, 31 U.S.C. 1341.