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Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Alexander Valley v. Jewell

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

March 23, 2015

THE MISHEWAL WAPPO TRIBE OF ALEXANDER VALLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
SALLY JEWELL, in her capacity as Secretary of the Interior, et al., Defendants

For The Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Alexander Valley, Plaintiff: Joseph Lewis Kitto, Lower Lake, CA; Susan X. Romero, The Ryan Law Firm, Pasadena, CA; Kelly Francis Ryan, The Ryan Law Firm, Monrovia, CA.

For Ken Salazar, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Interior, Larry Echo Hawk, Sally M.R. Jewell, Kevin Washburn, Defendants: LEAD ATTORNEY, David Bernard Glazer, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Department of Justice, San Francisco, CA.

For County of Sonoma, Intervenor Dft: Jeffrey Michael Brax, Bruce David Goldstein, Office of the Sonoma County Counsel, Santa Rosa, CA; David M. Schraver, PRO HAC VICE, Nixon Peabody LLP, Rochester, NY; David Henry Tennant, Nixon Peabody LLP, Rochester, NY; Matthew J. Frankel, Nixon Peabody LLP, San Francisco, CA; Michael Stewart Cohen, PRO HAC VICE, Jericho, NY.

For County of Napa, Intervenor Dft: David M. Schraver, PRO HAC VICE, Nixon Peabody LLP, Rochester, NY; David Henry Tennant, Nixon Peabody LLP, Rochester, NY; Matthew J. Frankel, Nixon Peabody LLP, San Francisco, CA; Michael Stewart Cohen, PRO HAC VICE, Jericho, NY; Thomas Stephen Capriola, County of Napa, Office of the County Counsel, Napa, CA.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

EDWARD J. DAVILA, United States District Judge.

Re: Dkt. Nos. 185, 186

In the earlier part of the twentieth century, the United States government passed a series of laws affecting its relationship with the indigenous inhabitants of California and their descendants. One of those laws, the Indian Appropriations Act of 1906, permitted the Secretary of the Interior (the " Secretary" ) to purchase parcels of land, or " rancherias," throughout the state for use by California Indians.[1] Fifty years later, Congress enacted another law, the California Rancheria Act of 1958 (" CRA" ), which authorized the Secretary to dissolve the same rancherias it had previously authorized.

At issue in this action is the termination and distribution of one of those rancherias, the Alexander Valley Rancheria (the " Rancheria" ), which, when it existed, was located in Sonoma County. Plaintiff The Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Alexander Valley (" Plaintiff" ) alleges in this action against Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Assistant Secretary of the Interior Kevin Washburn[2] (" the " Federal Defendants" ) that the process utilized by the Secretary to terminate the Rancheria between 1959 and 1961 was inconsistent with the CRA and therefore unlawful. The Federal Defendants disagree.

Federal jurisdiction arises pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Presently before the court are two Motions for Summary Judgment, one filed by Plaintiff and one filed by the Federal Defendants. See Docket Item Nos. 185, 186. The court has carefully considered these motions and the oral presentations of counsel in conjunction with the extensive historical record provided. Of the parties' arguments, one made by the Federal Defendants' provides for complete resolution. Accordingly, for the reasons explained below, the court finds that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The Federal Defendants' motion will therefore be granted and Plaintiff's motion will be denied.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

A. Creation of the Alexander Valley Rancheria

Pursuant to the Indian Appropriations Act of 1906, Pub. L. No. 59-258, 34 Stat. 325, 333, the Secretary purchased two parcels of land in 1908 and 1913 located in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County, California. See AR, MWT-AVR-2012-000001-004, MWT-AVR-2012-000005-008, MWT-AVR-2012-000009-011. These parcels, totaling 54 acres together, were designated under the Indian Appropriations Act for the benefit of California Indians who wished to live there and eventually became known as the Alexander Valley Rancheria.

Until its distribution, legal title and ownership of the Rancheria's land was vested in the United States. See Decl. of David B. Glazer (" Glazer Decl." ), Docket Item No. 185, at Ex. 2. Use of the Rancheria was designated through a somewhat informal " assignment" or " allotment" system, such that a right of use terminated upon abandonment of possession. Id. As a result, " Indians occasionally moved onto the property without any assignment, occupying a parcel abandoned or never assigned." Id. One observer wrote in a letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs on March 27, 1917, that Rancheria the " is not occupied regularly by the Indians as a home . . . ." See AR, MWT-AVR-2012-000309. Five families lived there at the time. Id.

B. The Wappo Indians Vote to Organize

After the California rancherias had been established, Congress enacted the Indian Reorganization Act (" IRA" ), 25 U.S.C. § § 461 et seq., in 1934. Under the IRA, an Indian tribe was permitted to " organize for its common welfare" and adopt a constitution and bylaws. 25 U.S.C. § 476(a) (1934) (amended 1988). Any decision to organize as a tribe had to be " ratified by a majority vote of the adult members of the tribe or tribes at a special election authorized and called by the Secretary" and thereafter " approved by the Secretary." Id.

On May 20, 1935, the Wappo Indians living on the Alexander Valley Rancheria submitted a list of fifteen residents who they proposed could vote to organize under the IRA. See AR, MWT-AVR-2012-000053. The Sacramento Indian Agency approved fourteen of those voters on June 5, 1935. See AR, MWT-AVR-2012-000054. Although not directly explained in the record, the one unapproved voter, James Adams, was presumably excluded because he was designated as a " non-Indian." See AR, MWT-AVR-2012-000053.

On June 10, 1935, the Sacramento Indian Agency received returns from the Wappo Indians' IRA vote. See AR, MWT-AVR-2012-000359. All fourteen voters were in favor of organization. Id. By 1940, 44 of the 49 individuals living on the Rancheria were identified as members of the ...


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