Articles Posted in Native American Law

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The district court sentenced Defendant David Magnan, a Native American, to three life terms after a jury convicted him of murdering three people in Indian Country. Defendant shot Lucilla McGirt twice and left her to die, paralyzed from the chest down, as part of an execution-style slaying during which he shot four individuals. McGirt died, but not before she identified Defendant as her assailant. On three separate occasions ranging from approximately two to five hours after the shooting, three people heard McGirt identify Defendant as the man who shot her. At trial, these three individuals testified to McGirt’s respective statements over Defendant’s hearsay objections. Defendant appealed, arguing the district court abused its discretion in ruling McGirt’s statements constituted excited utterances admissible under Rule 803(2) of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Magnan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants Pueblo of Pojoaque appealed a district court’s dismissal of its claim for declaratory and injunctive relief based on the New Mexico’s alleged unlawful interference with Class III gaming operations on the Pueblo’s lands. In July 2005, the Pueblo and New Mexico executed a Class III gaming compact pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”) that allowed it to operate casino-style gaming on its lands. Prior to the expiration of the compact, the New Mexico Gaming Control Board (“the Gaming Board”) sought to perform its annual compliance review of the Pueblo’s gaming operations. The Pueblo complied on June 24; on June 30, 2015, the compact expired at midnight. The Gaming Board announced that despite the U.S. Attorney’s decision allowing the Pueblo’s gaming operations to continue pending the review, the Pueblo’s casinos were operating illegally due to the absence of a compact, and it placed in abeyance approval of any license application or renewal for vendors who did business with the Pueblo. The Pueblo commenced this action, asserting in part that New Mexico failed to conduct compact negotiations in good faith in violation of IGRA and that individual defendants conspired under the color of state law to “deprive the federal right of the Pueblo and its members to be free of state jurisdiction over activities that occur on the Pueblo lands.” The Pueblo sought an injunction, contending that the Gaming Board’s actions were an impermissible attempt to assert jurisdiction over gaming operations on tribal lands, despite the termination of New Mexico’s jurisdiction over such activities upon the expiration of the compact. The district court entered final judgment, stayed the effects of the preliminary injunction, and issued an indicative ruling that it would vacate or dissolve the preliminary injunction on remand. The Pueblo sought to stay the district court’s judgment and restore the preliminary injunction. The district court declined to do so, but the Tenth Circuit extended a temporary injunction against the State mirroring the preliminary injunction entered by the district court. On appeal, the Pueblo argued the district court did not have jurisdiction to proceed to the merits given the interlocutory appeal of the preliminary injunction and, even if it did, it erred in concluding that IGRA did not preempt New Mexico’s regulatory action. The Tenth Circuit found the text of IGRA clearly evinced congressional intent that Class III gaming would not occur in the absence of a compact, and no such compact existed. Accordingly, conflict preemption also does not apply. For similar reasons, the Court rejected the Pueblo’s argument that the Gaming Board’s determination as to the unlawful nature of the Pueblo’s gaming activities was an improper assertion of jurisdiction preempted by IGRA. Because the Pueblo’s gaming activities are not conducted pursuant to a compact or an alternative mechanism permitted under IGRA, the Pueblo’s present gaming is unlawful under federal law, and the State’s conclusion to this effect was not an exercise of jurisdiction that IGRA preempts. View "Pueblo of Pojoaque v. New Mexico" on Justia Law

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“Custody does not automatically render [every] exchange an interrogation,” and the Tenth Circuit determined that certain statements defendant Gavin Yepa made while “tired, intoxicated and under tremendous emotional stress” were not the result of police interrogation warranting suppression. Defendant was convicted by a jury of first-degree felony murder in the perpetration of aggravated sexual abuse in Indian country. The sole issue on appeal was whether self-incriminating statements by defendant during a search of his person authorized by a warrant were spontaneous or were the result of interrogation. After a review of the circumstances of the statements, the Tenth Circuit found the district court did not clearly err in finding defendant’s statements were spontaneous and not by virtue of police interrogation. View "United States v. Yepa" on Justia Law

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This matter arose from the death of Todd Murray, a Ute tribal member, following a police pursuit on the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation. Murray’s parents, his estate, and the Ute Indian Tribe (the “Tribal Plaintiffs”) sued the officers involved in Ute Tribal Court for wrongful death, trespass, and other torts. The officers then filed suit in federal court against the Tribe, its Business Committee, the Tribal Court, the Acting Chief Judge of the Tribal Court, and the other Tribal Plaintiffs. The district court enjoined the Tribal Court action, holding that Nevada v. Hicks, 533 U.S. 353 (2001), barred tribal civil jurisdiction over the officers, making exhaustion of tribal court remedies unnecessary. It further determined that certain defendants were not entitled to tribal sovereign immunity. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court erred in excusing the officers from exhaustion of tribal remedies with respect to the Tribe’s trespass claim; that claim at least arguably implicates the Tribe’s core sovereign rights to exclude and to self-govern. The Court further concluded this claim was not barred by Hicks. However, the Court agreed the remaining Tribal Court claims were not subject to tribal jurisdiction and thus exhaustion was unnecessary. The Court reversed the district court’s denial of tribal sovereign immunity as to the Tribe, its Business Committee, and the Tribal Court. View "Norton v. Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah" on Justia Law

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In response to a request from the Quapaw Tribe, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) Acting General Counsel issued a legal opinion letter stating that the Tribe’s Kansas trust land was eligible for gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The State of Kansas and the Board of County Commissioners of the County of Cherokee, Kansas, filed suit, arguing that the letter was arbitrary, capricious, and erroneous as a matter of law. The district court concluded that the letter did not constitute reviewable final agency action under IGRA or the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). The Tenth Circuit affirmed: the IGRA’s text, statutory scheme, legislative history, and attendant regulations demonstrated congressional intent to preclude judicial review of legal opinion letters. Further, the Acting General Counsel’s letter does not constitute final agency action under the APA because it did not determine any rights or obligations or produced legal consequences. In short, the letter merely expresses an advisory, non-binding opinion, without any legal effect on the status quo ante. View "Kansas v. National Indian Gaming Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Unable to win the consent of all necessary landowners, a public utility company contended it had a statutory right to condemn a right-of-way on two parcels of land in New Mexico. Because federal law did not permit condemnation of tribal land, the Navajo Nation’s ownership of undivided fractional interests in the parcels presented a problem for the company. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the condemnation action against the two land parcels in which the Navajo Nation held an interest. View "Public Service Company of NM v. Barboan" on Justia Law

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The State of New Mexico sued the Department of the Interior (“DOI”) to challenge its authority to promulgate the regulations found at 25 C.F.R. 291 et seq. (“Part 291”). The challenged regulations concerned the process under which Indian tribes and states negotiate compacts to allow gaming on Indian lands. Congress established in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”). The Supreme Court would later decide, however, Congress lacked the authority to make states subject to suit by Indian tribes in federal court. However, the Court left intact the bulk of IGRA, and Congress has not amended it in the intervening years. As relevant here, the Part 291 process was implicated after the Pueblo of Pojoaque tribe sued New Mexico under IGRA and the State asserted sovereign immunity. Following the dismissal of the case on sovereign-immunity grounds, the Pojoaque asked the Secretary to prescribe gaming procedures pursuant to Part 291. Before the Secretary did so, New Mexico filed the underlying suit, seeking a declaration that the Part 291 regulations were not a valid exercise of the Secretary’s authority. The Pojoaque intervened. The district court granted New Mexico’s motion for summary judgment and denied that of DOI, holding that the Part 291 regulations were invalid and barred the Secretary from taking any further action on the Pojoaque’s request for the issuance of gaming procedures under them. DOI and the Pojoaque appealed that order, challenging the State’s standing, the ripeness of the dispute, and the district court’s holding that Part 291 was an invalid exercise of the Secretary’s authority. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "New Mexico v. Dept. of the Interior" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants, a certified class of Osage tribal members who owned headrights, appealed the district court’s accounting order. Plaintiffs alleged that the government was improperly distributing royalties to non-Osage tribal members, which diluted the royalties for the Osage tribal members, the rightful headright owners. The complaint attributed this misdistribution to the government’s mismanagement of the trust assets and the government’s failure to perform an accounting. Thus, Plaintiffs sought to compel the government to perform an accounting and to prospectively restrict royalty payments to Osage tribal members and their heirs. The district court dismissed Plaintiffs’ accounting claim because it found that the applicable statute only required the government to account for deposits, not withdrawals, and that such an accounting would not support Plaintiffs’ misdistribution claim. After review, the Tenth Circuit could not say the district court abused its discretion. "The accounting the district court fashioned will certainly inform Plaintiffs of the trust receipts and disbursements and to whom those disbursements were made." View "Fletcher v. United States" on Justia 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