Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Native American Law

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The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes jointly inhabited the Wind River Reservation. The State of Wyoming and the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation challenged a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency granting the Tribes’ application for joint authority to administer certain non-regulatory programs under the Clean Air Act on the Reservation. As part of their application, the Tribes were required to show they possessed jurisdiction over the relevant land. The Tribes described the boundaries of the Wind River Reservation and asserted that most of the land within the original 1868 boundaries fell within their jurisdiction. Wyoming and others submitted comments to the EPA arguing the Reservation had been diminished in 1905 by act of Congress, and that some land described in the application was no longer within tribal jurisdiction. After review, the EPA determined the Reservation had not been diminished in 1905 and the Tribes retained jurisdiction over the land at issue. Because the EPA decided the Tribes otherwise satisfied Clean Air Act program requirements, it granted their application. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review was whether Congress diminished the boundaries of the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming in 1905. the Court found that it did. The Court therefore granted Wyoming's petition for review, vacated the EPA's order and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "State of Wyoming v. Environ. Protect. Ag'y" on Justia Law

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In 2009, as part of a federal law-enforcement investigation, FBI and Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) agents arrested twenty-three people and searched twelve properties in and near three Utah cities. The operation targeted persons possessing and trafficking in Native American artifacts illegally taken from the Four Corners region of the United States. One day after agents searched Dr. James D. Redd’s home, arrested him as part of this operation, and released him on bond, Dr. Redd committed suicide. Dr. Redd’s Estate (“the Estate”) sued sixteen named FBI and BLM agents and twenty-one unnamed agents under “Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics,” (403 U.S. 388 (1971)), claiming that the agents had violated Dr. Redd’s Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court granted the Defendants’ motions to dismiss all of the Estate’s claims except one: a Fourth Amendment excessive-force claim against the lead BLM agent, Daniel Love. Later, on qualified-immunity grounds, the district court granted Agent Love summary judgment on that final claim. The Estate appealed the district court’s dismissal of the excessive-force claim. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Estate of James Redd v. Love" on Justia Law

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Richard Hackford brought this action seeking to enjoin the State of Utah’s prosecution of traffic offenses he committed in December 2013. He argued on appeal that he was an Indian and the offenses occurred in Indian Country. Concluding that Hackford failed to meet the requirements for avoiding state criminal jurisdiction, the district court denied his motion for a preliminary injunction and dismissed his complaint with prejudice. He appealed, and finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Hackford v. Utah" on Justia Law

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While responding to an early-morning 911 call, Officer Blaine Parnell of the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs, attempted to arrest Jakota Wolfname on two outstanding tribal warrants. Parnell ordered Wolfname to put his hands behind his back; instead, Wolfname ran away. As the result of his flight from Parnell and the ensuing scuffle, a grand jury indicted Wolfname for “knowingly and forcibly assault[ing], resist[ing], and interfer[ing] with” Parnell while Parnell “was engaged in the performance of his official duties, which resulted in bodily injury to . . . Parnell.” The jury found Wolfname guilty of resisting and interfering with Parnell in violation of 18 U.S.C. section 111(a)(1). It also found that Wolfname made physical contact with Parnell. But the jury wrote, “No,” next to the assault option on the verdict form. And despite testimony from Parnell and his orthopedic surgeon indicating that Parnell suffered damage to a ligament in his thumb during the struggle, the jury also declined to find that Wolfname inflicted bodily injury on Parnell. The district court imposed a 24-month prison sentence. Wolfname appealed. In this case, the parties asked the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to decide whether assault was an element of every conviction under 18 U.S.C. 111(a)(1). The Tenth Circuit found that the district court erred in failing to instruct the jury it had to find Wolfname assaulted Parnell. This error was plain error, and warranted reversal. View "United States v. Wolfname" on Justia Law

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Thirty years ago, the Tenth Circuit decided all boundary disputes between the Ute Indian Tribe, the State of Utah, and its subdivisions. The only thing that remained was for the district court to memorialize that mandate in a permanent injunction. Twenty years ago, the Court modified its mandate in one respect, but stressed that in all others, the Court's earlier decision remained in place. The matter came before the Tenth Circuit again: the State of Utah, one of its cities, and several of its counties sought to relitigate the same boundaries. "Over the last forty years the questions haven’t changed - and neither have our answers." This case and all related matters were reassigned to a different district judge. The court and parties were directed to proceed to a final disposition both promptly and consistently with the Tenth Circuit's mandates in "Ute V," "Ute VI," and this case. View "Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah v. Myton" on Justia Law

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Jason Merida, the former executive director of construction for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (the Nation), was convicted after a fifteen-day jury trial on six counts of a seven-count indictment. The indictment alleged Merida conspired to receive cash and other remuneration from subcontractors performing work on construction projects for the Nation, embezzled in excess of $500,000 by submitting and approving false subcontractor invoices, and willfully failed to report income on his 2009 and 2010 federal tax returns. Merida testified in his own defense at trial and, on cross-examination, prosecutors impeached his testimony using the transcript of an interview the Nation’s attorneys had conducted with him as part of a separate civil lawsuit, before the initiation of these criminal proceedings. Merida objected to the use of the transcript and moved for mistrial, arguing the transcript was protected by the attorney-client privilege and its use prejudicially damaged his credibility with the jury. The district court denied his motion for a mistrial and the jury convicted Merida on all but one count. Merida timely appealed the trial judge’s denial of his motion for mistrial. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Merida" on Justia Law

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Defendant Roger Barnett served as Second Chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in 2013 and 2014. He pleaded guilty in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma to embezzling funds from the Tribe by appropriating to his own use money withdrawn from ATM machines. The sole issue on this appeal was whether the district court properly determined the amount of money embezzled for purposes of calculating Defendant’s offense level and the amount he owed the Tribe in restitution. Defendant argued that the court’s reliance on the presentence report (PSR) and Addendum was improper because the government failed to present at sentencing any evidence of the amount of loss. The Tenth Circuit disagreed: the district court could properly rely on the PSR and Addendum because Defendant did not adequately challenge their recitations of the evidence concerning his defalcations. The only issue that he preserved for appeal was whether the recited evidence sufficed to support the court’s determination of the amount of loss, and the Tenth Circuit held that the evidence was sufficient. View "United States v. Barnett" on Justia Law

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Ute Tribe member Todd Murray died on April 1, 2007, after a police pursuit. Murray’s parents Debra Jones and Arden Post, on behalf of themselves and Murray’s estate, brought a 13-count complaint in the district court alleging various constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. 1983, conspiracy to violate civil rights under 42 U.S.C. 1985, and state tort claims. Claims were brought in varying permutations against nine individual law enforcement officers, their employers, and a private mortuary (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiffs also sought sanctions against Defendants for alleged spoliation of evidence. The district court granted summary judgment to the mortuary on Plaintiffs’ emotional distress claim, and to all remaining Defendants on all federal claims. The court also dismissed as moot Plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment on the status of Indian lands, and denied Plaintiffs’ motion for spoliation sanctions. The district court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law torts after disposing of the emotional distress claim and the federal claims. Plaintiffs appealed all of these rulings in two appeals. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court, but dismissed an appeal of the taxation of costs because it lacked appellate jurisdiction. View "Jones v. Norton" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were descendants of the victims of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre and brought suit for an accounting of the amounts they alleged the U.S. government held in trust for payment of reparations to their ancestors. Because the United States had not waived its sovereign immunity, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of this case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "Flute v. United States" on Justia Law

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In April 2013, plaintiffs filed a complaint in Utah state court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The complaint sought a declaration as to the authority of the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation (the "Tribe") over non-Indian businesses operating on certain categories of land. It also alleged that Dino Cesspooch, Jackie LaRose, and Sheila Wopsock (individuals affiliated with the Ute Tribal Employment Rights Office ("UTERO")), had harassed and extorted plaintiffs in violation of state law. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss in state court by way of a special appearance, arguing that service of process had been insufficient, that the state court lacked subject matter jurisdiction in the absence of a valid waiver of tribal sovereign immunity, that the Tribe and its officers were immune from suit but were necessary and indispensable parties, and that plaintiffs failed to exhaust administrative remedies in tribal court. Cesspooch and LaRose were properly served. Two attorneys for the defendants moved for pro hac vice admissions. The motions were granted. Following a hearing on the motion to dismiss, the state court ordered further briefing on whether defendants' motion constituted a general appearance and authorized substituted service on the Tribe and Wopsock. The court then granted plaintiffs' motion to file an amended complaint adding additional defendants. The Tribe, Cesspooch, LaRose, and Wopsock were served the amended complaint. The Tribe filed a notice of removal in the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah. In its notice, the Tribe stated that Cesspooch, LaRose, and Wopsock consented to removal, and that the remaining defendants would consent. The remaining defendants (save one) filed consent and joinders to removal. Plaintiffs moved to remand, arguing that the initial defendants waived their right to removal (or to consent to removal) by litigating in state court, removal was untimely, the defendants had not unanimously consented to removal, and that the federal court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The district court granted the motion to remand. The Tribe appealed the remand order. The Tenth Circuit dismissed this appeal, finding that under 28 U.S.C. 1447(d), a district court order remanding a case to state court was "not reviewable on appeal or otherwise." Further, the Court held that a district court order remanding because the defendants did not unanimously join or consent to removal was patently "not reviewable." In addition, the Court concluded that the remand order in this case was colorably characterized as being based on lack of unanimity. View "Harvey v. Ute Indian Tribe" on Justia Law