Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Native American Law
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For centuries, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians inhabited what is now northern Michigan. The federal government took tribal land for settlers. The Band was determined to stay in their territory. The Treaty of 1836 ceded almost 14 million acres of land to the government in exchange for a temporary reservation in Little Traverse Bay, and thereafter, land west of the Mississippi. The government promised the Band $200,000 “whenever their reservations shall be surrendered.” The Treaty expired in 1841, but the government abandoned its plan to move the Band west.The Treaty of 1855 described the specific tracts, provided certain tribal members with acreage, required them to make land selections within specific periods, and reserved ownership of land not timely selected for the government. The government delayed the land selections and failed to timely provide land titles. In 1949 and 1951, before the Indian Claims Commission (ICC), the Band alleged “grossly inadequate and unconscionable” consideration. ICC found that the tribes had ceded 12,044,934 acres and retained 401,971 acres, concluded that the Band was owed $10,109,003.55, and rejected a claim that the Band was owed compensation for land that was never allotted under the 1855 Treaty.In 2015, the Band sought a declaration that the 1855 Treaty created a reservation for the Band. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. The Treaty provided for allotments of land, which would not fall under federal superintendence, rather than a collective Indian reservation. Under the Treaty’s language, its precedent negotiations, and practical construction, the land cannot be said to be “validly set apart for the use of the Indians . . . under the superintendence of the [federal] [g]overnment.” View "Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians v. Whitmer" on Justia Law

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Swiger accepted a $1200 loan from online lender Plain Green, an entity owned by and organized under the laws of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation, Montana. She describes Rees as the “mastermind” behind a "rent-a-tribe" scheme, alleging that he and his company used Plain Green's tribal sovereign immunity as a front to shield them from state and federal law. When Swiger signed the loan contract, she affirmed that Plain Green enjoys “immun[ity] from suit in any court,” and that the loan “shall be governed by the laws of the tribe,” not the laws of any state. She agreed to binding arbitration under tribal law, subject to review only in tribal court. The provision covers “any issue concerning the validity, enforceability, or scope of this Agreement or this Agreement to Arbitrate.” Seven months after accepting the loan, Swiger alleged that she repaid $1170.54 but still owed $1922.37.Swiger sued, citing Michigan and federal law, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and consumer protection laws. The district court concluded that the enforceability of the arbitration agreement “has already been litigated, and decided against Rees, in a similar case commenced in Vermont.” The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to stay the case pending arbitration. Swiger’s arbitration agreement includes an unchallenged provision delegating the question of arbitrability to an arbitrator. The district court exceeded its authority when it found the agreement unenforceable View "Swiger v. Rosette" on Justia Law

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Spurr is the stepmother of Nathaniel, a Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi (NHBP) tribal member in Fulton, Michigan. Nathaniel obtained an ex parte personal protection order (PPO) from the NHBP tribal court, alleging that Spurr engaged in a campaign of harassment against him that included unwanted visits to Nathaniel’s residence on the NHBP reservation and several hundred letters, emails, and phone calls. The tribal court, that same month, held a hearing and made the PPO “permanent” (lasting one year), broadly, prohibiting Spurr from contacting Nathaniel or “appearing within [his] sight.” The NHBP Supreme Court affirmed. Six months later, Nathaniel claimed that Spurr violated the PPO. After holding two hearings, the tribal court found Spurr in civil contempt and mandated that Spurr pay attorney’s fees incurred by Nathaniel for a hearing where Spurr failed to appear and $250 to NHBP for hearing costs. In lieu of the $250 payment, Spurr could choose to perform 25 hours of community service. Spurr sought a federal declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Spurr’s claims against the Band and the NHBP Supreme Court were barred by sovereign immunity; 18 U.S.C. 2265 established the tribal court’s jurisdiction. View "Spurr v. Pope" on Justia Law

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In 2000, the Tribe had agreed to pay Monroe $265 million for Monroe’s 50% ownership interest in the Casino, giving the Tribe a 100% ownership interest. In 2002, the Tribe agreed to another $200 million debt in exchange for a continued gaming license from the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB). In 2005, the Tribe created a new entity (Holdings), which became the Casino’s owner; pre-existing entities owned by the Tribe became Holdings' owners to allow the Tribe to refinance and raise capital to meet its financial obligations. The restructuring was approved by the MGCB, conditioned on the Tribe’s adherence to strict financial covenants. In 2005, Holdings transferred approximately $177 million to various entities. At least $145.5 million went to the original owners of Monroe. At least $6 million went to the Tribe. For three years, the Tribe unsuccessfully attempted to raise additional capital to meet its financial obligations. In 2008, the related corporate entities) filed voluntary petitions for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The Trustee alleged that the 2005 transfers were fraudulent and sought recovery under 11 U.S.C. 544, 550. The district court and Sixth Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court’s dismissal of the complaint on the basis of tribal sovereign immunity. The court rejected arguments that Congress intended to abrogate the sovereign immunity of Indian tribes in 11 U.S.C. 106, 101(27). View "Buchwald Capital Advisors LLC v. Sault Ste. Marie Tribe" on Justia Law

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Defendant is a member of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Nation. Before his arrest and incarceration, he resided on the Isabella Reservation in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan with his wife and his step-daughter, B.J. Defendant repeatedly sexually abused B.J. and his nieces for several years when the three were young children. He was sentenced to concurrent terms of life in prison for three counts of aggravated sexual abuse, 18 U.S.C. 2241(c), one count of sexual abuse, 18 U.S.C. 2242(2), and one count of abusive sexual contact, 18 U.S.C. 2244(a)(2); 15 years in prison for two counts of sexual abuse of a minor, 18 U.S.C. 2243(a); and three years in prison for one count of abusive sexual contact, 18 U.S.C. 2244(a)(2). The Sixth Circuit affirmed, upholding the admission of evidence of his past sexual assaults pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 413 and 403 and that his victims witnessed him physically assault his wife pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 404(b) and 403. View "United States v. Mandoka" on Justia Law

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Eight-year-old KV accused her 17-year-old uncle, JAS, of vaginally raping her on tribal land. The FBI interviewed KV, who described the assault to an interviewer who had conducted more than 5,000 such interviews. JAS was charged with an act of juvenile delinquency: sexual abuse of a child under the age of 12, 18 U.S.C. 2241(c). The district court found beyond a reasonable doubt that JAS had sexually assaulted KV as charged. Although the Sentencing Guidelines would have recommended a life sentence had JAS been an adult, his maximum sentence as a juvenile was five years of “official detention,” 18 U.S.C. 5037(c)(2)(A); the district court sentenced him to three. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting JAS’s arguments that the court improperly admitted the video of the victim’s FBI interview and that the evidence was insufficient to support the finding that he sexually assaulted KV. The court cited Rule 801(d)(1)(B)(ii), which allows the admission of prior out-of-court statements of a trial witness (KV) if: the statements are consistent with the witness’s testimony; the statements are offered to rehabilitate the witness after an opposing party has tried to impeach her “on another ground”; and the opposing party is able to cross-examine the witness about the prior statements. View "United States v. J.A.S." on Justia Law

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Kelsey, a member of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, was convicted in tribal court of misdemeanor sexual assault for inappropriately touching a tribal employee at the Band’s Community Center. The Community Center is located on land owned by the Band but is not located within tribal reservation boundaries. Kelsey appealed his sentence in tribal court, arguing that the Band lacked criminal jurisdiction over his off-reservation conduct. After his sentence was affirmed, he filed a petition for federal habeas relief, arguing that the Band lacked jurisdiction over his off-reservation conduct and that his appeal in tribal court violated due process protections afforded by the Indian Civil Rights Act, 25 U.S.C. 1302(a)(8). The district court granted habeas relief, holding that the Band lacked criminal jurisdiction to try and punish Kelsey’s off-reservation conduct but declined to rule on Kelsey’s due process challenge. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the Band has jurisdiction because it has not been expressly or implicitly divested of its inherent sovereign authority to prosecute members when necessary to protect tribal self-government or control internal relations. The court held that Kelsey’s due process challenge under the Indian Civil Rights Act failed. View "Kelsey v. Pope" on Justia Law

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The federally recognized Indian Tribe is a successor to an 1864 Treaty between the United States and the Chippewa Indians, including an agreement by the United States to set aside property in Isabella County, Michigan as a reservation. The Treaty did not mention application of federal regulations to members of the Tribe or to the Tribe itself. The property reserved for the “exclusive use, ownership, and occupancy” of the Tribe became the Isabella Reservation. The Tribe has over 3,000 members, and is governed by an elected council. In 1993, under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Tribe and the state entered a compact, approved by the United States, allowing the Tribe to conduct gaming on the Isabella reservation. The Tribe opened the Casino; enacted a gaming code with licensing criteria for employees; and created a regulatory body. The council hires all Casino management-level employees, approves contracts, and decides how to distribute revenue. Of the Casino’s 3,000 employees, 7% are Tribe members, as are 30% of management-level employees. The Casino generates $250 million in gross annual revenues and attracts 20,000 customers per year, many of whom are not Tribe members. The Tribe discharged Lewis for violating an employee handbook policy that prohibited solicitation by employees, including solicitation related to union activities, on Casino property. The NLRB found that the policy violated the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 151. The Sixth Circuit affirmed and enforced the order, finding that the NLRB has jurisdiction over the Casino’s employment practices. View "Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort v. Nat'l Labor Relations Bd." on Justia Law

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The Band, a federally recognized Indian tribe, has more than 4,000 enrolled members, most living within or near its aboriginal lands in Michigan. Under the Little Bands Act and the Indian Reorganization Act, 25 U.S.C. 476, the Band enacted a constitution that vests its legislative powers in the Tribal Council and grants the Council power to operate gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 25 U.S.C. 2701. The Band entered into a compact with the State of Michigan to conduct gaming activities on Manistee trust lands. The casino has 905 employees: 107 are enrolled Band members, 27 are members of other tribes, and 771 are not members of any Indian tribe. Most casino employees live outside the Band’s trust lands. Apart from the casino, 245 employees work for the Band: 108 are Band members. The Council enacted a Fair Employment Practices Code, which essentially prohibit or drastically restrict most concerted activities, collective bargaining, and organization efforts. Acting under the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 151–169, the National Labor Relations Board issued an order to the Band to cease and desist enforcing provisions that conflict with the NLRA. The Sixth Circuit entered an enforcement order, finding that the NLRA applies to the casino. View "Nat'l Labor Relations Bd. v. Little River Band of Ottawa Indians" on Justia Law

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The Tribe bought land from the City of Lansing to build a class III gaming facility, using funds appropriated by Congress for the benefit of certain Michigan tribes. The Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act provides that land acquired with the income on these funds shall be held in trust by the federal government. Michigan obtained an injunction to prevent the Tribe from applying to have land taken into trust by the Secretary of the Interior, on the ground that the submission would violate a compact between the state and the Tribe. That compact requires that a tribe seeking to have land taken into trust for gaming purposes under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), 25 U.S.C. 2703(4)(B), secure a revenue-sharing agreement with other tribes. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The state did not seek to enjoin a class III gaming activity, but instead a trust submission under MILCSA, so IGRA does not abrogate the Tribe’s sovereign immunity, and the district court lacked jurisdiction. The issue of whether class III gaming on the property at issue will violate IGRA if the Tribe’s MILCSA trust submission is successful is not ripe. View "Michigan v. Sault Ste. Marie Tribe" on Justia Law