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California Valley Miwok Tribe v. California Gambling Control Commission

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

November 21, 2014

CALIFORNIA GAMBLING CONTROL COMMISSION, Defendant and Respondent; CALIFORNIA VALLEY MIWOK TRIBE et al., Interveners and Respondents.

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County, No. 37-2008-00075326-CU-CO-CTL Ronald L. Styn, Judge.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Manuel Corrales, Jr.; Singleton & Associates and Terry Singleton for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Sara J. Drake, Assistant Attorney General, and Neil D. Houston, Deputy Attorney General, for Defendant and Respondent.

Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, John D. Collins, Richard M. Freeman, Matthew S. McConnell and James F. Rusk for Intervenors and Respondents.



California Valley Miwok Tribe (the Tribe) appeals following a summary judgment in favor of defendant California Gambling Control Commission (the Commission). In granting summary judgment, the trial court ruled that until the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) indicates, by entering into a contract for federal benefits with the Tribe, that an internal tribal dispute about the Tribe's membership and leadership has been resolved, the Commission is justified in continuing to hold in trust for the Tribe certain funds generated from Indian gaming in California that the Commission is required to distribute to the Tribe on a quarterly basis. As we will explain, we conclude that the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the Commission, and accordingly we affirm the judgment.



This matter returns to us for a third time. In our last opinion, we issued a writ of mandate directing the trial court to lift the stay it had imposed and to

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allow the parties to file dispositive motions.[1] The parties filed dispositive motions, and the trial court resolved them, entering judgment in favor of the Commission on its motion for summary judgment, which the Tribe now appeals.

To resolve the instant appeal, we once again review the factual and procedural background of this dispute, adding to our previous chronology the most recent developments in the ongoing tribal membership and leadership dispute involving the Tribe. Although the notice of appeal was filed in July 2013, both the Commission and the Tribe have asked us to take judicial notice of a December 13, 2013 order by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in the federal litigation involving the Tribe. (California Valley Miwok Tribe v. Jewell (D.D.C. 2013) 5 F.Supp.3d 86 (Jewell).)[2] We grant the parties' requests to take judicial notice of Jewell.[3] Accordingly, we conduct our de novo review of the summary judgment ruling taking into account the current status of the federal proceedings involving the Tribe as reflected in Jewell. Also, in the course of our preliminary discussion, we refer to Jewell for background on the dispute over the Tribe's membership and leadership.

A. The Commission Withholds Funds from the Tribe

As we previously explained, pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (18 U.S.C. § 1166 et seq.; 25 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq.), the State of California has entered into tribal-state gaming compacts with the various tribes in California authorized to operate gambling casinos (collectively, the Compacts).[4] (See Gov. Code, §§ 12012.25-12012.53 [ratifying tribal-state gaming compacts].) The Compacts set forth a revenue-sharing mechanism under which tribes that operate less than 350 gaming devices share in the license

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fees paid by the tribes entering into the Compacts, so that each "Non Compact Tribe" in the State receives the sum of $1.1 million per year. (Compacts, § Non Compact Tribes are defined as "[f]ederally recognized tribes that are operating fewer than 350 Gaming Devices...." (Compacts, § 4.3.2. (a)(i).) It is undisputed that the Tribe is a Non Compact Tribe, as it operates no gaming devices and is federally recognized.[5]

The annual payment of $1.1 million to each Non Compact Tribe is drawn from the Indian Gaming Revenue Sharing Trust Fund (RSTF) described in the Compacts. (Compacts, § The Commission administers the RSTF, with the Compacts providing that "[t]he Commission shall serve as the trustee of the [RSTF]." (Compacts, § According to the Compacts, "[t]he Commission shall have no discretion with respect to the use or disbursement of the trust funds. Its sole authority shall be to serve as a depository of the trust funds and to disburse them on a quarterly basis to Non Compact Tribes." (Compacts, § Further, a provision in the Government Code directs that the Commission "shall make quarterly payments from the Indian Gaming Revenue Sharing Trust Fund to each eligible recipient Indian tribe within 45 days of the end of each fiscal quarter." (Gov. Code, § 12012.90, subd. (e)(2).)

The Commission does not dispute that, like all Non Compact Tribes, the Tribe is eligible for an annual $1.1 million payment under the terms of the Compacts. However, starting in 2005, the Commission, acting as trustee of the RSTF, suspended its quarterly disbursements to the Tribe and decided to hold the funds indefinitely in trust for the Tribe for later distribution. The Commission began withholding the distribution of the RSTF funds to the Tribe when it became aware of a dispute over the tribe's membership and leadership as evidenced by ongoing proceedings and litigation involving the BIA's relationship with the Tribe. As the Commission recently explained in correspondence to the Tribe, the Commission "contends that its designation as trustee of the RSTF impliedly requires it to take reasonable steps to ensure that RSTF funds are disbursed to individuals or groups properly authorized to receive and administer the funds on behalf of their respective tribes." The Commission "takes the position that it lacks the authority or jurisdiction to independently assess the legitimacy of a purported tribal leader or tribal leadership group, and instead relies upon the assessments and conclusions of the Department of the Interior, acting through the Bureau of Indian Affairs..., as reflected in the final administrative actions of that agency."

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Therefore, the Commission has suspended its disbursement of the RSTF funds to the Tribe "pending [the] BIA's recognition of an authorized... Tribe leader or leadership group with which to conduct its government[-]to[-]government business." As of March 6, 2013, the Commission was holding $8, 763, 000.99, exclusive of interest, of the RSTF funds payable to the Tribe.

B. The Tribe's Leadership and Membership Dispute and Its Litigation with the Federal Government

The long-running dispute over the Tribe's membership and leadership was recently detailed in Jewell. As our resolution of this appeal requires an understanding of the nature of the current dispute, we turn to Jewell for that information.

"In 1906, Congress authorized the BIA to purchase land for use by Indians in California who lived outside reservations or who lived on reservations that did not contain land suitable for cultivation." (Jewell, supra, 5 F.Supp.3d at p. 88.) In 1915, a federal agent located the " 'Sheepranch Indians, ' " whose number had purportedly "dwindled down to '13 in number, ' " and in 1916, "the BIA acquired approximately 0.93 acres in Calaveras County, California for the benefit of these Indians." (Id. at pp. 88-89.) "The land became known as the 'Sheep Ranch Rancheria' and was held in trust for the Indians by the Federal government." (Id. at p. 89.)

"In 1966, during a period in which the Federal government sought to terminate the Federal trust relationship with various Indian tribes, the BIA reached out to the Sheep Ranch Rancheria in order to distribute the assets of the Rancheria to its members as a prelude to termination of the trust relationship.... The BIA discovered that the only home on the Rancheria that remained occupied was that of Mabel Hodge Dixie, presumably the granddaughter of Peter and Annize Hodge, who were identified in the 1915 census of the Sheepranch Indians.... The BIA determined that Mabel was the only Indian entitled to receive the assets of the Rancheria, and she voted to accept the distribution plan and was issued a deed to the land.... However, the BIA failed to take the steps necessary to complete the termination of Sheep Ranch Rancheria." (Jewell, supra, 5 F.Supp.3d at p. 89, citations omitted.)

"Mabel died in 1971.... A probate was ordered and the Administrative Law Judge issued an Order of Determination of Heirs on October 1, 1971, reaffirmed by a subsequent Order issued on April 14, 1993.... The Order listed the following individuals as possessing a certain undivided interest in

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the Sheep Ranch Rancheria: Merle Butler (Mabel's common law husband) and Mabel's four sons Richard Dixie, Yakima Dixie, Melvin Dixie, and Tommy Dixie." (Jewell, supra, 5 F.Supp.3d at pp. 89-90, citations omitted.)

Of Mabel's five heirs, by 1998, only Yakima and Melvin were still living. (Jewell, supra, 5 F.Supp.3d at p. 90.)[6] In the 1990's Silvia Burley contacted the BIA for information on her Indian heritage. (Ibid.) The BIA determined that Burley might be remotely related to a prior member of the Sheep Ranch Rancheria and put her in contact with Yakima. (Ibid.)

In August 1998, Yakima purportedly signed a statement agreeing to enroll Burley; her two children, Rashel Reznor and Anjelica Paulk; and her granddaughter, Tristian Wallace, into the Tribe. (Jewell, supra, 5 F.Supp.3d at p. 90.) "The statement lists Yakima as 'spokesperson/Chairman of the Sheep Rancheria' but does not mention Melvin.... Nor does it describe what criteria, if any, Yakima used to determine whether Burley and her daughters/granddaughter were eligible for tribal membership." (Ibid., citations omitted.)

BIA representatives met with Yakima and Burley in September 1998, apparently to start the process of formally organizing the Tribe.[7] (Jewell, supra, 5 F.Supp.3d at p. 90.) The BIA followed up with a letter, which stated, "(1) the Tribe is 'held to the Order of the [probate] Administrative Law Judge' for 'purposes of determining the initial membership of the Tribe'; (2) Yakima and Melvin, as the only remaining heirs, 'are those persons possessing the right to initially organize the Tribe'; (3) because Yakima 'accepted Silvia Burley, Rashel Reznor, Anjelica Paulk, and Tristian Wallace as enrolled members of the Tribe, ' these individuals, 'provided that they are at least eighteen years of age, ' also 'possess the right to participate in the initial organization of the Tribe'; (4) Yakima and Burley were to 'consider what enrollment criteria should be applied to further prospective members'; and (5) the BIA recommended, 'given the size of the Tribe, ' that the Tribe 'operate as a General Council, which could elect or appoint a chairperson and conduct business.' " (Id. at pp. 90-91.)

"To that end, the BIA drafted Resolution # GC 98 01, which Yakima and Burley executed on November 5, 1998[, ]" and which "states that the 'membership of the Tribe currently consists of at least the following individuals: [Yakima], Burley, Rashel, Anjelica, and Tristian; this membership may

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change in the future consistent with the Tribe's ratified constitution and any duly enacted Tribal membership statutes.'... It further states that Yakima, Burley, and Rashel, 'as a majority of the adult members of the Tribe, hereby establish a General Council to serve as the governing body of the Tribe.' " (Jewell, supra, 5 F.Supp.3d at p. 91, citations omitted.) "Rashel Reznor did not sign the Resolution.... In addition, the Resolution acknowledges that Melvin Dixie is a surviving heir to the Rancheria, but his whereabouts are 'unknown.' " (Id. at fn. 6. citation omitted.)

"The next correspondence that the BIA received from the Tribe is a letter submitted by Burley dated April 20, 1999.... The letter is titled 'Formal notice of resignation' and states that Yakima 'resign[ed] as Chairperson of the Sheep Ranch Tribe.' Yakima claims that Burley forged his signature on the April 20, 1999 letter.... The very next day, on April 21, the BIA received a letter from Yakima in which he states 'I cannot and will not resign as chairman of the Sheep Ranch Indian Rancheria.'... However, the letter further states that Yakima 'give[s] [Burley] the right to act as a delegate to represent the Sheepranch Indian Rancheria.' " (Jewell, supra, 5 F.Supp.3d at p. 91, citations omitted.)[8]

"On July 20, 1999, BIA and the Tribe entered into a 'self-determination contract' that provided annual funding for the development and organization of the Tribe for the benefit of future tribal members." (Jewell, supra, 5 F.Supp.3d at p. 91.) These federal funds are provided under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. § 450 et seq.). As in our previous opinions, we will refer to the BIA's provision of these federal funds under a contract with an Indian tribe as "ISDEAA benefits."

"Shortly thereafter, the leadership dispute that had been brewing between Yakima and Burley came to a head. Over the course of the next couple of years, both Yakima and Burley laid claim to the role of 'Chairperson' of the Tribe and attempted to organize the Tribe pursuant to the IRA by submitting multiple competing constitutions that purportedly had been adopted by the tribal membership." (Jewell, supra, 5 F.Supp.3d at p. 92.)

Between 1999 and 2005, Yakima and Burley continued to argue over tribal governance and membership — including a lawsuit and an administrative appeal filed by Yakima — but the BIA still provided ISDEAA benefits to the

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Tribe. (Jewell, supra, 5 F.Supp.3d at pp. 92-93.) Starting in 2000, the BIA indicated that if the Tribe did not internally resolve its leadership and membership dispute, the BIA would suspend the government-to-government relationship between the Tribe and the United States ...

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