The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garland E. Burrell, Jr. United States District Judge
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Cahto Tribe of the Laytonville Rancheria (the "Tribe") seeks an order under the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA") vacating and reversing the Bureau of Indian Affairs' ("BIA") administrative decision that ordered the Tribe to re-enroll twenty-two members of the Sloan/Hecker family who were disenrolled by the Tribe in 1995. A hearing on the pending cross motions for summary judgment was held on May 23, 2011. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted, and the BIA's decision is affirmed.
The BIA's decision may be vacated and reversed under the APA only if it is "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). The reviewing court should reverse an agency decision as arbitrary and capricious "only if the agency relied on factors Congress did not intend it to consider, entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem, or offered an explanation that runs counter to the evidence before the agency[.]" The Lands Council v. McNair, 537 F.3d 981, 987 (9th Cir. 2008) (en banc) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). However, "[p]urely legal questions are reviewed de novo." Howard v. F.A.A., 17 F.3d 1213, 1215 (9th Cir. 1994); see 5 U.S.C. § 706 ("the reviewing court shall decide all relevant questions of law, [and] interpret constitutional and statutory provisions").
A. Membership in the Tribe
The Tribe "is a federally-recognized Indian tribe." (Pl.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts ("SUF") ¶ 1; Defs.' SUF ¶ 1.) "The Tribe is organized under Articles of Association adopted by the Tribe in 1967 . . . ." (Pl.'s SUF ¶ 2; Defs.' SUF ¶ 1.)
Membership in the Tribe is governed by Article III of the Tribe's Articles of Association. (Pl.'s SUF ¶ 3.) Article III(A) provides that persons eligible for membership are:
1. All living persons listed on the official census of the Laytonville Rancheria as of October 31, 1944.
2. All living descendants of persons listed on the official census of the Laytonville Rancheria as of October 31, 1944, provided such descendants possess at least one-fourth (1/4) degree California Indian blood.
(Articles of Ass'n III(A), Administrative Record ("AR") 286.)
Paragraph 3 of Article III(A) provides: Persons who meet the requirements of Article
III.A.1 and Article III.A.2 shall be ineligible for membership if they have been affiliated with any other tribe, group or band to the extent of (a) being included on a formal membership roll, (b) having received an allotment or formal assignment of land, (c) having been named as a distributee or dependent of a distributee in a reservation distribution plan. Id.
"The Tribe has enacted an ordinance governing enrollment, Ordinance No. 1." (Pl.'s SUF ¶ 4.) Ordinance No. 1 "set[s] forth requirements and procedures to govern the enrollment of persons whose names shall be placed on the membership roll of the [Tribe]." (Ordinance No. 1, AR 280.) Section 6 of Ordinance No. 1 concerns "Appeals" and prescribes: "A person disapproved for enrollment shall be notified in writing of the reason(s) for disapproval and informed of his right to appeal to the Area Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Sacramento, California, within 30 days following receipt of the rejection notice." Id. 285. Section 7 of Ordinance No. 1 concerns "Membership Roll Preparation" and prescribes: "After final decisions have been rendered on all applications, a roll shall be prepared with a certification as to its correctness by the Enrollment Committee and the Area Director, Bureau of Indian Affairs." Id. 282. Section 8 of Ordinance No. 1 concerns "Keeping Membership Roll Current" and prescribes: "Each new Executive Committee . . . shall be responsible for reviewing the membership roll and keeping the roll current by . . . making corrections as necessary including deleting of names of persons on the roll who were placed there erroneously, fraudulently, otherwise incorrectly . . . ." Id.
B. Disenrollment of the Sloan/Hecker Family
"On September 19, 1995 the Tribe's General Council voted to remove from the Tribe's membership 22 individuals, members of a family with the surname Sloan, sometimes described as the Sloans/Heckers." (Pl.'s SUF ¶ 6; Defs.' SUF ¶ 2.) "In its September 19, 1995 decision, the General Council found that the Sloans 'have been affiliated with other tribes by being included on formal membership rolls and/or * * * have been a distributee of a reservation distribution plan, namely the Hoopa/Yurok settlement' and thus were ineligible for membership under Article III.A.3 of the Tribe's Articles of Association." (Pl.'s SUF ¶ 7; Defs.' SUF ¶ 2.)
"Soon after the Tribe's disenrollment decision, on September 29, 1995, an attorney representing the Tribe requested the BIA's recognition of the disenrollment action." (Defs.' SUF ¶ 4.) "On October 4, 1995, the [BIA] Superintendent responded stating that the matter was internal to the Tribe and that he had referred it to the Tribe's Executive Committee." Id.
"From 1995 to 1999, BIA officials declined requests by the Sloans and others to intervene and maintained that the Tribe's disenrollment action was an internal matter." (Pl.'s SUF ¶ 11.)
"On May 13, June 24, and August 2, 1999, Gene Sloan, one of the disenrolled individuals, wrote to the Regional Director and formally requested an appeal regarding the Tribe's disenrollment decision and the removal of the Sloan/Heckers from the Tribe's membership rolls." (Defs.' SUF ¶ 7; Pl.'s SUF ¶ 9.) ...