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Tenth Circuit Dismisses Wyandotte Land-Into-Trust Case October 25, 2007

Posted by rezjudicata in 10th Circuit, Federal Circuits.

Governor of the State of Kansas,  et. al. v. Kempthorne

Issue(s): Sovereign Immunity › Federal Sovereign Immunity » Waiver; Administrative Law › Agency Actions » Land-Into-Trust

In 1984, Congress passed a law providing for compensation to the Wyandotte Nation for two-hundred years of land transfers to the United States. The law–P.L. 98-602–provided for per capita distribution of 80% of the money and allocated the remaining 20% for the Tribe to purchase real property. The Secretary of the Interior was then required to take into trust any property purchased with this so-called “105(b) money.” Initially, the Wyandottes invested the money. In 1995, the Wyandottes negotiated the purchase of a tract of land in Kansas City, Kansas with the intent to develop gaming on the site. The Tribe then applied to the Secretary to take the land into trust under P.L. 98-602. The Governor of Kansas, the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri, the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, and the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Indians filed suit claiming that the Secretary could not take the land into trust because the Wyandottes did not exclusively use 105(b) money to make the purchase. A convoluted process resulted that ultimately led the District Court to remand the case the administrative agency whereupon the court ordered the case closed. In the interim the Secretary did take the land into trust and the plaintiffs filed another, wholly new lawsuit based on the same facts and contentions.

Citing the Quiet Title Act, the Tenth Circuit dismissed the case. The Quiet Title Act waives the sovereign immunity of the United States for certain actions regarding title, but expressly excepts cases involving “trust or restricted Indian lands.” The Court found the plaintiffs action to be a “quiet title” action under the Act. The Court found the timing of the lawsuit and the timing of the Secretary’s decision to take the land into trust to be dispositive. Because the Secretary took the land into trust before the current lawsuit was filed, sovereign immunity stripped the Court of jurisdiction over the case. Even though the original litigation began before the Secretary granted trust status, the district court entered final judgment on that case without ruling on the merits, and certain orders purported to preserve the parties’ rights, the Tenth Circuit refused to fuse the two actions. It held that it could not reanimate rights preserved in the original case because doing so would be effectively authorizing a suit against the Uniteds States, which it had not power to do. Therefore, the Court dismissed the case for want of jurisdiction.



1. rezjudicata - October 26, 2007

Here is a news piece on the case, including more background:


As always, the story in the court opinion is only the tip of the iceberg.

2. rezjudicata - October 26, 2007

Unsurprisingly, after fighting for over ten years, the state plans to appeal the Tenth Circuit’s ruling.


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