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9th Circuit, En Banc, Reverses Navajo Nation v. USFS August 8, 2008

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Navajo Nation v. United States Forest Service

The en banc panel of the 9th Circuit says that the use of treated sewage effluent on the San Fransisco Peaks does not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, reversing the 9th Circuit’s original opinion. The case is 2 volumes long and contains a lengthy dissent. Analysis to follow.

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Ninth Circuit Says HUD Breached No Actionable Trust Duty Concerning Blackfeet Housing March 27, 2008

Posted by rezjudicata in 9th Circuit, Federal Circuits.
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Marceau v. Blackfeet Housing Authority, No. 04-35210, (9th Cir. March 19, 2008)

Issue(s): Tribal Immunity > Waiver; Federal Courts > Comity >> Tribal Court Exhaustion; Trust Relationship > Causes of Action >> Mitchell Doctrine; Administrative Law > APA Claims >> Required Agency Actions

In 1977, the Blackfeet Tribe created the Blackfeet Housing Authority to take advantage of HUD block grants. Adopting HUD-authored regulations and using HUD money, the Authority built 153 homes. According to Marceau, HUD directed the Authority to use chemical-laden wooden foundations for the home. As a result, many of the homes’ inhabitants became seriously ill and many of the homes became uninhabitable. Did the Authority enjoy immunity from suit as a tribal entity? If not, did the plaintiff’s need to exhaust their tribal court remedies? Did plaintiffs have a cause of action against HUD for violating a trust responsibility? And could plaintiffs state a claim against HUD based on the APA?

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Ninth Circuit Tells Father To Exhaust Tribal Court Remedies January 19, 2008

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Atwood v. Fort Peck Tribal Court, No. 06-35299 (9th Cir. Jan. 18, 2008)

Issue(s): Federal Jurisdiction > Subject Matter Jurisdiction >> § 1331 >>> Domestic Relations Exception; Federal Jurisdiction > Exhaustion of Tribal Remedies

Federal question jurisdiction exists for challenges to tribal court jurisdiction. As a prudential matter, however, an appellant must exhaust his tribal remedies before the federal court will exercise its jurisdiction. Linda Hanson sought custody of her niece in the Fort Peck Tribal Court. While this case was pending, Atwood sued to enjoin the tribal court action in federal court. Did the district court have jurisdiction over Atwood’s suit? Even so, did Atwood need to exhaust his tribal court remedies?

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Ninth Circuit Says Karuk Defendant Failed To Establish Individual Aboriginal Title January 19, 2008

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United States v. Lowry, No. 06-10469 (9th Cir. Jan. 16, 2008).

Issue(s): Criminal Law > Criminal Procedure >> Burden of Proof >>> Elements; Criminal Law > Criminal Procedure >> Defenses >>> Individual Aboriginal Title

The Forest Service prohibits permanent human occupation of National Forest lands. The doctrine of individual aboriginal title, however, may prevent application of the regulation. Lowry, a Karuk Indian, and her family have lived on sections of the Klamath National Forest since at least the turn of the century. It is unclear, however, whether the family occupied Lowry’s parcel for an unbroken period of time. At Lowry’s trial for violating the regulation, did Lowry have to raise individual aboriginal title as an affirmative defense? If so, did she present enough evidence to establish title?

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Ninth Circuit Partially Reverses District Court’s Denial of Sovereign Immunity December 11, 2007

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Burlington Northern v. Vaughn, No. 05-16755 (9th Cir. Dec. 7, 2007)

Issue(s): Federal Courts > Appellate Jurisdiction >> Interlocutory Appeals; Tribal Sovereign Immunity > Injunctions >> Ex Parte Young Doctrine; Federal Courts > Jurisdiction >> Pendant Appellate Jurisdiction

Normally, the Court of Appeals has appellate jurisdiction only over final decisions. Before final judgment, however, courts may hear interlocutory appeals over a small class of lower court orders. These are orders that finally determine claims of right that are collateral to the merits of the action. The district court denied the Appellants’ motion to dismiss based on tribal sovereign immunity. Can the Court review the district court’s order under the collateral orders doctrine?

Unless waived or abrogated by Congress, tribal sovereign immunity prevents suits against tribal officials acting within the scope of their authority. An outgrowth of the Ex Parte Young doctrine, however, allows suits for prospective relief against tribal officials allegedly acting in violation of federal law. Burlington Northern alleged that the Hualapai Tribe violated federal law by attempting to tax their railroad. Does tribal sovereign immunity bar their suit?

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Ninth Circuit Says Arizona Not Entitled to $36M in Medicaid Costs December 9, 2007

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Arizona Health Care v. McClellan, No 05-16386 (9th Cir. Dec. 3, 2007)

Issue(s): Administrative Law > Agency Interpretations of Law >> Chevron Deference; Indian Health Care Improvement Act > Statutory Interpretation >> Medicaid Reimbursement

Section 402(e) of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA) requires the federal government (through Medicaid) to reimburse all Medicaid costs for services “received through an Indian Health Service facility.” The Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) interprets § 402(e) to mean services an IHS facility offers and bills Medicaid for. Is the meaning of § 402(e) ambiguous; and if so, is the HCFA interpretation reasonable?

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Ninth Circuit Dismisses Tribal Membership Bid December 5, 2007

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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?

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Ninth Circuit Dismisses Northern Cheyenne Boundary Dispute Case November 7, 2007

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Fidelity Exploration v. United States, No. 06-35307 (9th Cir. Nov. 6, 2007)


Issue(s): Quiet Title Act > Statute of Limitations >> Claim Accrual; Federal Courts > Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Fidelity Exploration sued the United States to quiet title to a five mile stretch of the bed of the Tongue River. In 1926, Congress confirmed a presidential executive order setting the middle of the main channel of the Tongue River as a boundary of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. The State of Montana leased a five mile stretch of the river bed to Fidelity in 2002.

The Quiet Title Act, subject to some exceptions, places a 12-year statute of limitations on all actions filed under the Act. The limitations period begins to run when the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s predecessor-in-interest knew or should have known of its claim. The Court held that Montana was Fidelity’s predecessor in interest. It reasoned that if the Act specifically exempts suits by states from the limitations period but not their successors in interest, then a plain reading of the Act’s notice provision means predecessors in interest must include states. Montana had notice of a claim in 1926 when Congress acted to fix the Reservation boundary. Therefore, Fidelity’s window to sue on their claim closed decades ago and the Court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.

9th Circuit Orders En Banc Rehearing of Navajo Nation v. US Forest Service October 18, 2007

Posted by rezjudicata in 9th Circuit, Federal Circuits.
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The Ninth Circuit ordered an en banc rehearing of Navajo Nation v. US Forest Service. In March 2007, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the federal government’s plan to use treated sewage to make snow for a ski area in the San Francisco Peaks violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), 42 USC §§ 2000 et seq. Several tribes challenged the plan claiming that such actions degraded a sacred site.

Northern Cheyenne’s Injunction Denied By 9th Circuit September 25, 2007

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Northern Cheyenne v. Norton

Summary + Analysis coming soon