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Ninth Circuit Dismisses Tribal Membership Bid December 5, 2007

Posted by rezjudicata in 9th Circuit, Federal Circuits.
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Alvarado v. Table Mountain Rancheria, No. 06-15351 (9th Cir. Nov. 29, 2007)

Issue(s): Federal Jurisdiction > Subject Matter Jurisdiction >> Tribal Membership Claims

In 1958, Congress terminated the Table Mountain Rancheria (TMR). Individual members and their descendants filed a class action suit against the government in 1983 to regain federal recognition. The ensuing settlement defined the class members and restored their status as Indians under US law. Plaintiffs alleged that the TMR wrongfully denied their membership in the tribe. Does the court have subject matter jurisdiction to force the TMR and federal goverment to admit the plaintiffs as tribal members?

The Ninth Circuit said no, but did not decide if tribal sovereign immunity precluded jurisdiction. The Court held that the plaintiffs had not alleged a violation of the 1983 settlement. The settlement restored “Indian status” but nowhere described tribal membership. Therefore, the Court did not have ancillary jurisdiction over the Plaintiffs’ claims.

Plaintiffs also failed to establish jurisdiction under the APA. In their complaint, Plaintiffs did not allege that they had exhaused their administrative remedies. Given the chance at the trial phase, the Plaintiffs declined to amend their complaint. Moreover, the Plaintiffs claimed that the Secretary of the Interior failed to comply with the settlement. Effectively seeking to compel agency action, the APA required Plaintiffs to aver that the secretary failed to take a discrete, required action. The Plaintiffs did not. Consequently, the Court had no subject matter jurisdiction over the case.

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