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Tsi Akim Maidu of Taylorsville Rancheria v. United States Department of Interior

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

May 25, 2017

TSI AKIM MAIDU OF TAYLORSVILLE RANCHERIA, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION AND TRANSFERRING THE CASE TO THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA RE: ECF NO. 12

          LAUREL BEELER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND

         This case concerns the legal status of Tsi Akim Maidu of Taylorsville Rancheria, a Native American Tribe (the “Tribe”), in the eyes of the federal government.[1] More specifically, the Tribe challenges the government's determination that it “lost status as a federally recognized Indian Tribe when the United States sold the Taylorsville Rancheria in 1966 pursuant to Congressional mandate.”[2]

         That Congressional mandate - the 1958 California Rancheria Act - authorized the Department of the Interior to distribute forty-one rancherias'[3] assets to “individual Indians.”[4] See Pub. L. 85-671, 72 Stat. 619 (Aug. 18, 1958), as amended Pub. L. 88-419, 78 Stat. 390 (Aug. 11, 1964). After such distribution under the Act, the recipients would not be entitled to government services “because of their status as Indians . . ., all statutes of the United States which affect Indians because of their status as Indians [would] be inapplicable to them, and the laws of the several States [would] apply to them in the same manner as they apply to other citizens.”[5] Id.

         The Tribe alleges that the government sold the Taylorsville Rancheria in 1966 and thus - according to the government - terminated its “status as a federally recognized tribe.”[6] But, the Tribe says, a sale under the Act does not “correspond[] with the termination of the status of the [T]ribe.”[7] In 1998, the Tribe filed a “letter of intent to petition for acknowledgment as an Indian tribe, ” and later “sought clarification from the [government] about its status as a federally recognized Tribe.”[8] In June 2015, the then-Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs “declined to restore” the Tribe's status and explained that, by sale of the Taylorsville Rancheria to Plumas County, the Tribe's relationship with the government was terminated.[9]

         The Tribe then sued the Department of Interior, its Secretary, and the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.[10] It attacks the June 2015 decision and, among other relief, requests a declaration that it “is a federally [recognized] tribe” and that its members “are Indians whose status have not been vanquished.”[11] The government moves to dismiss the case or, in the alternative, to transfer it under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3) and 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a).[12] (The government alternatively moves to dismiss the complaint under rule 12(b)(6).)

         The court held a hearing on the motion on May 25, 2017. The court grants the government's motion because venue is improper in the Northern District of California and transfers the case to the Eastern District of California.

         GOVERNING LAW

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3), a defendant may move to dismiss a case for improper venue. After a defendant challenges the venue, it is the plaintiff's burden to show that venue is proper. See Piedmont Label Co. v. Sun Garden Packing Co., 598 F.2d 491, 496 (9th Cir. 1979). In the context of a Rule 12(b)(3) motion, the court need not accept as true all allegations in the complaint, but may consider facts outside the pleadings. See Murphy v. Schneider Nat'l, Inc., 362 F.3d 1133, 1137 (9th Cir. 2004). The court is, however, “obligated to draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party and resolve all factual conflicts in favor of the non-moving party.” Id. at 1138.

         If venue is improper, the court may either dismiss the case without prejudice, or, if it is in the “interest of justice, ” transfer the case “to any district or division in which it could have been brought.” 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a); In re Hall, Bayoutree Assocs., Ltd., 939 F.2d 802, 804 (9th Cir. 1991) (if a court decides to dismiss a case for improper venue, dismissal must be without prejudice). Ordinarily, the interest of justice requires transferring the case to the proper venue rather than dismissing the case. See Baeta v. Sonchik, 273 F.3d 1261, 1264-65 (9th Cir. 2001).

         ANALYSIS

         1. Venue Is Improper Under 18 U.S.C. § 1391

         Section 1406(a) and Rule 12(b)(3) require a district court to dismiss or transfer a case if venue is “wrong” or “improper” in that district. See 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(3); Atlantic Marine Const. Co., Inc. v. United States Dist. Ct. for the W. Dist. of Tex., 134 S.Ct. 568, 577 (2013). “This question - whether venue is ‘wrong' or ‘improper' - is generally governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1391.” Atlantic Marine, 134 S.Ct. at 577. Under that section, in cases against United States officers or employees, venue is proper:

in any judicial district in which (A) a defendant in the action resides, (B) a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated, or (C) the ...

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