BAY CITY, Mich. — A health care plan administrator owes a Michigan Indian tribe more than $8.4 million for violating the Employee Retirement Income Security Act by charging hidden administrative fees for the tribe’s employee benefit program but is not liable for any alleged damages related to the tribe’s separate health care plan for all of its members, even though some are also employees, a federal judge held July 14 (Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, et al. v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, No. 1:16-cv-10317, E.D. Mich., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109366).
SALT LAKE CITY — A special master is needed to redraw voting districts for a Utah County after the county failed at creating new districts that do not violate the voting rights of Native Americans that live in the county, a federal judge ruled July 14 (Navajo Nation, et al. v. San Juan County, No. 2:12-cv-00039, D. Utah, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109786).
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California Office of Attorney General on July 7 filed suit against a Canadian tobacco company in California state court, claiming that the company illegally sold cigarettes in California and broke other state laws (People of the State of California v. Grand River Enterprises Six Nations LTD, No. 34-2017-00215131, Calif. Super., Sacramento Co.).
SAN FRANCISCO — The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeal on July 10 remanded a False Claims Act suit filed against a Native American tribal college after determining that the district court incorrectly found that the college was entitled to sovereign immunity (United States ex rel. Fawn Cain, Tanya Archer, Sandi Ovitt v. Salish Kootenai College Inc., No. 15-35001, 9th Cir., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 12262).
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two California water districts on July 5 petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the issue of whether the federal government and a Native American tribe have reserved rights to groundwater under federally reserved land (Coachella Valley Water District, et al. v. Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, et al., No. 17-40, U.S. Sup.).
MISSOULA, Mont. — Several Native American tribes, spiritual groups and tribal members sued the U.S. government on June 30 in Montana federal court to halt a plan to delist the grizzly bear population of the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq. (Crow Indian Tribe, et al. v. United States of America, et al., No. 9:17-cv-89, D. Mont.).
TULSA, Okla. — The Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma on June 29 filed a brief in Oklahoma federal court arguing that its case against federal agencies alleging that hydraulic fracturing permits were improperly granted should not be dismissed because its claim is valid under federal law (Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, et al. v. Ryan Zinke, et al., No. 16-cv-697, N.D. Okla.).
DENVER — A panel of the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on June 30 reversed a lower court’s ruling and held that a man’s lawsuit contending that drilling leases had been approved improperly was moot based on a retroactive decision of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) (David P. Hayes v. Osage Minerals Council, et al., No.15-5060, 10th Cir.; 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 11780).
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court on July 3 granted a request by a Utah city to dismiss its petition for certiorari seeking an opinion from the court on whether the city is part of an Indian reservation for purposes of criminal jurisdiction in a dispute that has lasted more than 40 years and has seen several appellate court rulings and a prior Supreme Court opinion (City of Myton, Utah v. Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, No. 16-868, U.S. Sup., 2017 U.S. LEXIS 4286).
PRESCOTT, Ariz. — A member of the Navajo Nation is not entitled to receive relocation benefits to move from one tribe’s side of a divided reservation to her tribe’s side because she failed to show that she was a legal resident of the wrong side on the cut-off date established in the Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act of 1974, an Arizona federal judge confirmed June 29 (Helen Laughter v. Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation, No. 16-08196, D. Ariz., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 101116).
SAN FRANCISCO — A divided Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on June 28 sent an employment dispute involving two school districts on tribal land back to the tribe’s labor commission to decide whether it has jurisdiction to decide the employees’ claims for merit pay and violation of the tribe’s hiring preference law (Window Rock Unified School District, et al. v. Ann Reeves, et al., No. 13-16278, 9th Cir., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 11503).
ST. PAUL, Minn. — A man’s 30-year prison sentence for beating and raping his wife on an Indian reservation was affirmed June 29 by the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which found no error in the trial court’s allowance of expert testimony about domestic violence victims (United States of America v. Denny Johnson, Sr., No. 16-3483, 8th Cir., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 11585).
SEATTLE — Family members of a Native American who was shot and killed by a non-Indian have standing to assert claims that federal law enforcement officials’ bias against Native Americans caused the family members to be denied benefits under crime victims’ rights statutes, a divided Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held June 26 (Earline Cole, et al. v. Matthew Oravec, et al., No. 14-35664, 9th Cir., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 11320).
SAN FRANCISCO — A California federal judge on June 26 dismissed class claims accusing the Republic of Nicaragua of seizing natives’ territory without compensation, finding the lead plaintiff, a member of a native tribe, can’t maintain a class action without a lawyer; her lawsuit involves a political question that is not justiciable in the district court; and she has failed to allege the particularized injury that is necessary to confer standing (Josephenie Robertson, et al. v. The Republic of Nicaragua, et al., No. 17-852, N.D. Calif., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98599).
DENVER — The state of Kansas cannot challenge an opinion letter issued by the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) stating that a tribe’s U.S. trust land in the state was eligible for gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) because the letter does not constitute reviewable final agency action under IGRA or the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held June 27 (State of Kansas, ex rel. Attorney General Derek Schmidt v. Ryan Zinke, et al., No. 16-3015, 10th Cir., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 11397).
SEATTLE — The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on June 21 held that claims filed by three Native Americans against a tribal housing authority and several officials to recover damages resulting from an explosion fail because the authority and officials are protected by the tribe’s sovereign immunity and did not waive that immunity (Glenn Eagleman, et al. v. Rocky Boys Chippewa-Cree Tribal Business Committee or Council, et al., No. 15-36003, 9th Cir., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 10993).
OLYMPIA, Wash. — A decision by the Washington Supreme Court exempting a tribal business from paying state taxes on gasoline it hauls to a reservation based on a “right to travel” provision in an 1855 treaty warrants review by the U.S. Supreme Court because it cannot be reconciled with the high court’s precedents and a Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling regarding the same treaty, Washington’s licensing agency argues in a June 14 petition for writ of certiorari (Washington State Department of Licensing v. Cougar Den, Inc., No. 16-1498, U.S. Sup., 2017 U.S. S. Ct. Briefs LEXIS 2112).
ATLANTA — A trial court erred in confirming an arbitration award against a tribal lending company because the business is shielded by the tribe’s sovereign immunity, which it did not waive by agreeing to an arbitration provision in a contract, a Georgia appeals panel held June 19 (Churchill Financial Management Corp. v. ClearNexus, Inc., No. A17A0535, Ga. App., 2nd Div., 2017 Ga. App. LEXIS 285).
TOPEKA, Kan. — An attorney who was the special prosecutor in a tribal court case in which a former tribal officer was convicted of misuse of funds can represent the tribe in the former officer’s bid for habeas relief because the attorney’s potential testimony as a witness in the habeas proceeding is either not material or obtainable from other sources, a Kansas federal magistrate judge held June 16 (Bobbi Darnell v. John Merchant, et al., No. 17-cv-3063, D. Kan., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92655).
WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a ruling announced JUne 19, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the Federal Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that the disparagement clause of the Lanham Act, 15 U. S. C. §1052(a), which bars registration of trademarks deemed disparaging, violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment because trademarks “are private, not government, speech” (Matal, Interim Director, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office v. Simon Shiao Tam, No. 15-1293, U.S. Sup.).