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Big Sandy Rancheria of Western Mono Indians, et al v. Brownstone

April 20, 2011

BIG SANDY RANCHERIA OF WESTERN MONO INDIANS, ET AL.,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BROWNSTONE, LLC, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Oliver W. Wanger United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION REGARDING MOTION TO DISMISS (Doc. 7)

I. INTRODUCTION.

Big Sandy Rancheria of Western Mono Indians and Big Sandy Rancheria Entertainment Authority ("Plaintiffs") proceed with an action for declaratory relief against Brownstone, LLC ("Defendant").

Defendant filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint on March 2, 2011 under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3) for improper venue. (Doc. 7). The motion centers on proper interpretation of a forum selection clause. Plaintiffs filed a first amended complaint ("FAC") on March 23, 2011. (Doc. 8). Plaintiffs filed opposition to the motion to dismiss on April 4, 2011. (Doc. 9).

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND.

Plaintiff Big Sandy Rancheria of Western Mono Indians ("Tribe") is a federally recognized Indian Tribe. Plaintiff Big Sandy Rancheria Entertainment Authority is a wholly owned instrumentality of the Tribe organized under Tribal Law as an authorized government agency.

On September 10, 1999, the Tribe and the State of California executed and entered into a "Tribal-State Gaming Compact" ("Compact") pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (25 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq.) ("IGRA"). The United States Secretary of the Interior approved the Compact on May 5, 2000. Inter alia, the Compact sets forth specific and comprehensive licensing requirements pursuant to which entities designated as "Gaming Resource Suppliers" or "Financial Sources" must become licensed by the Tribe's Gaming Agency before providing any services to the Tribe. In order to become licensed, an entity must submit a formal application from the Tribal Gaming Agency and must also submit to a State Certification process with the California Gambling Control Commission.

On May 21, 2002, the Tribe enacted the Big Sandy Rancheria Tribal Gaming Ordinance ("Gaming Ordinance") and adopted the Big Sandy Rancheria Tribal Gaming Regulations ("Gaming Regulations"); both were approved by the National Indian Gaming Commission on November 7, 2002. The Gaming Ordinance established the Big Sandy Rancheria Gaming Commission ("Gaming Commission"). The Gaming Commission is responsible for carrying out the Tribe's regulatory responsibilities.

On January 16, 2007, the Tribe and Defendant executed a "Memorandum of Understanding" ("MOU") which memorialized their attempt to enter into a formal development, financing agreement, and consulting agreement for a new casino, hospitality, and recreational project for the Tribe. Pursuant to the MOU, the Tribe was to forego discussion with any entity other than Defendant with respect to contracts or agreements related to the development, construction, opening, financing, or on-going operation of the Tribe's proposed project. The MOU provided that Defendant would advance $40,000.00 to the Tribe pursuant to a Credit Agreement the parties intended to enter into at a later date.

On or about March 25, 2007, the Tribe and Defendant executed two agreements as contemplated by the MOU: (1) a Development Agreement; and (2) a Credit Agreement. The Development Agreement stated that Defendant would provide an array of services to the Tribe in connection with its gaming activities. Defendant was to be paid a development fee equal to six percent of the total cost of the project. The Development Agreement includes a provision that purports to relieve Defendant from any licensing requirements imposed under the IGRA, the Compact, the Gaming Regulations, or the Gaming Ordinance. The Credit Agreement includes a similar exemption provision.

The Compact, Gaming Ordinance, and Gaming Regulations require Defendant's licensure in light of the terms and provisions of the Development Agreement and the Credit Agreement. Defendant has never applied for or been granted any Tribal Gaming License, nor has Defendant ever submitted to a Suitability Determination by the California Gambling Control Commission.

On or about December 10, 2009, the Gaming Commission notified Defendant that it was required to be licensed. The Gaming Commission requested that Defendant submit all necessary applications within ten days. Approximately thirty days later, Defendant responded to the Gaming Commission and asserted that it was not subject to licensing requirements pursuant to the exemption provisions entailed in the Development Agreement and Credit Agreement. Defendant also asserted that it did not need to obtain any licensing because Defendant did not deem any of its services to the tribe to be "Gaming Resources."

The Gaming Commission reiterated its position in a letter to Defendant on February 9, 2010, noting that the contract language Defendant sought to rely on conflicted with the express terms of the Compact, the Gaming Ordinance, and the Gaming Regulations. The Gaming Commission notified Defendant that until it received the necessary licenses, Defendant was to refrain from further contact with the Tribal Council or the Entertainment Authority.

On or about July 13, 2010, the Gaming Commission notified the Tribe of its "Findings of Regulatory Review of Brownstone, LLC and Associated Documents with resulting Business Relationships with the Big Sandy Entertainment Authority and the Big Sandy Rancheria Band of Western Mono Indians" ("the Findings"). Inter alia, the Findings provided that the Gaming Commission determined that the Development Agreement and Credit ...


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