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California Valley Miwok Tribe v. Zinke

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 31, 2017

RYAN ZINKE, in his official capacity as U.S. Secretary of Interior; MICHAEL BLACK, in his official capacity as Acting Assistant Secretary of Interior-Indian Affairs; WELDON LOUDERMILK, in his official capacity as Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Defendants.



         Plaintiffs Silvia Burley, Rashel Reznor, Anjelica Paulk, and Tristian Wallace ("Burley faction") brought this action against defendants Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, Acting Assistant Secretary of Interior Michael Black, and Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (“BIA”) Weldon Loudermilk[1] (“federal defendants”) for violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”), declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and due process violations arising out of a BIA decision on the tribal membership and recognized government of the California Valley Miwok Tribe (“Tribe”). Several alleged Tribe members, including Yakima Dixie, intervened (“intervenor defendants”). (Docket No. 30.) Plaintiffs, federal defendants, and intervenor defendants now move for summary judgment. (Docket Nos. 44, 46-47.)

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         This action is part of a long-running leadership dispute over the Tribe between the Burley faction and Yakima Dixie that has resulted in actions in state courts, federal courts, and administrative agencies. See Cal. Valley Miwok Tribe v. United States, 424 F.Supp.2d 197 (D.D.C. 2006) [“Miwok I”]; Cal. Valley Miwok Tribe v. United States, 515 F.3d 1262 (D.C. Cir. 2008) [“Miwok II”]; Cal. Valley Miwok Tribe v. Jewell, 5 F.Supp.3d 86 (D.D.C. 2013) [“Miwok III”]. The Tribe is a federally recognized tribe, formerly known as the “Sheep Ranch Rancheria of Me-Wuk Indians of California.” (2015 AR 1397.)[2]

         In 1915, John Terrell of the Office of Indian Affairs conducted a census of “Sheepranch Indians” in Calaveras County, California. (2011 AR 3-5.) At the time of the census, there were thirteen Sheepranch Indians. (2011 AR 3.) In 1916, the United States acquired a 0.92 acre parcel of land, known as “Sheep Ranch Rancheria, ” for these Indians. (2011 AR 3-6.)

         In 1934, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act (“IRA”), which required the BIA to hold elections where a tribe would decide whether to accept provisions of the IRA, including provisions permitting tribes to organize and adopt a constitution. 25 U.S.C. §§ 5123, 5125. The BIA found that there was only one eligible adult Miwok Indian, Jeff Davis, living on the rancheria in 1935.[3] (2011 AR 13, 20.) He voted in favor of adopting the IRA but the Tribe never pursued formal organization. (2011 AR 13, 20.)

         Amended in 1964, the California Rancheria Act authorized the termination of federal recognition of California Rancherias by distributing each rancheria's assets to the Indians residing on the rancheria. (2011 AR 1687; 2015 AR 1399.) At that time, Mabel Dixie was the sole Miwok resident on the land. (2011 AR 38.) She voted to accept the land distribution plan and terminate the trust relationship between the federal government and the Tribe. (2011 AR 47-51.) The BIA failed, however, to take the necessary steps to complete the termination of the Decision's administrative record with the citation (2015 AR XX). rancheria. (2011 AR 83-84.)

         Mabel Dixie died in 1971 and an Administrative Law Judge ordered the distribution of her estate. (2011 AR 61.) Her common law husband and four sons, including Yakima Dixie, received an undivided interest in the land. (Id.) By 1994, Yakima Dixie represented that he was the only living descendant of Mabel and recognized Tribe member. (2011 AR 82.)

         A. Leadership Dispute

         In 1998, the Burley faction received Dixie's permission to enroll in the Tribe. (2011 AR 110-14.) In September 1998, the BIA met with Dixie and Burley in order to discuss formal organization of the Tribe. (2011 AR 172-76.) The BIA noted that it believed that the original tribal membership was limited to the heirs of Mabel Dixie because of the land distribution during probate. (2011 AR 173.) The Tribe's membership then expanded with the addition of the Burley faction. (2011 AR 173.)

         In November 1998, the BIA drafted, and Dixie and Burley signed, Resolution #GC-98-01 (“1998 Resolution”). (2011 AR 177-79.) The 1998 Resolution listed Dixie and the four member Burley faction as Tribe members. (2011 AR 177.) It also established “a General Council to serve as the governing body of the Tribe.” (2011 AR 178.) In 1999, Burley submitted Dixie's resignation as tribal chairman to the BIA, but Dixie claimed he did not resign. (2011 AR 180, 1573.) The BIA affirmed the General Council's authority as the governing body of the Tribe in February 2000 and continued to recognize the General Council and Burley's leadership through 2005. (2011 AR 249-54, 2691.)

         In February 2004, Burley submitted a tribal constitution to the BIA “in an attempt to demonstrated that it is an ‘organized' Tribe” under the IRA. (2011 AR 1095.) The BIA rejected the constitution because it did not reflect the involvement of “the greater tribal community.” (2011 AR 1095-96.) The BIA restated this position in February 2005 when it concluded that it did not recognize any tribal government or tribal chairperson for the Tribe. (2011 AR 610-11.)

         B. Miwok I and Miwok II

         The Burley faction challenged the denial of their proposed constitution. Miwok I, 424 F.Supp.2d at 201. The court reasoned that while the Tribe has flexibility in organizing under the IRA, the BIA has an obligation to ensure that governing documents “have been ‘ratified by a majority vote of adult members.'” Id. at 202. Because the Tribe “failed to take necessary steps to protect the interests of its potential members, ” the court dismissed the complaint. Id. at 202-03.

         The D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court. Miwok II, 515 F.3d at 1268. The court reasoned that “tribal organization under the [IRA] must reflect majoritarian values, ” the Burley faction admits the Tribe has a potential membership of 250, and the proposed constitution did not involve the majority of those members. Id. at 1267-68.

         C. 2010 Decision and Miwok III

         While Miwok II was pending, the BIA met with the parties in order to promote organization under the IRA. (2011 AR 1261.) In November 2006, the BIA published notice of a General Council meeting in order to initiate the reorganization process. (Id.) The Burley faction appealed this decision. The Regional Director affirmed the November 2006 notice, reasoning that the purpose of the meeting was to identify the putative group who has a right to participate in the Tribe's organization. (2011 AR 1494-98.)

         Burley appealed this decision to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (“IBIA”), who affirmed, in part, the Regional Director. (2011 AR 1502, 1684-705.) The IBIA also noted that the April 2007 decision involved an “enrollment dispute.” (2011 AR 1703.) Because the IBIA lacks jurisdiction over enrollment disputes, it referred this issue to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. (Id.)

         In August 2011, the Assistant Secretary issued a decision (“2011 Decision”) that was “a 180-degree change of course” from the BIA's previous position on the Tribe. (2011 AR 2049-50.) The Assistant Secretary concluded: (1) the Tribe is a federally recognized tribe; (2) the Tribe's citizenship consists solely of Dixie and the Burley faction; (3) the Tribe operates under a General Council government under the 1998 Resolution; (4) the “General Council is vested with the governmental authority of the Tribe”; (5) the Tribe is not organized under the IRA and is not required to organize under it; and (6) the United States cannot treat tribes not organized under the IRA differently than tribes organized under the IRA. (2011 AR 2049-50.) Dixie challenged this decision in federal district court.

         The district court in Miwok III focused on the Tribe's citizenship and the recognition of the General Council as the Tribe's government. Miwok III, 5 F.Supp.3d at 96. The court held that the 2011 Decision was arbitrary and capricious because the Assistant Secretary assumed, without explanation, that the Tribe was comprised of only five members and the General Council was the recognized tribal government. Id. at 97-100. The record was replete with contrary evidence, but the Assistant Secretary “ma[de] no effort to address any of this evidence in the record.” Id. at 98. The court vacated the 2011 Decision and remanded the case to the Assistant Secretary to reconsider the number of tribal members and validity of the General Council. Id. at 100-01.

         D. December 2015 Decision

         The Assistant Secretary issued his December 2015 Decision in response to the Miwok III remand. He held, based on the record and previous federal court decisions, “that the Tribe's membership is more than five people, and that the 1998 General Council does not consist of valid representatives of the Tribe.” (2015 AR 1402.) He further concluded that the General Council was a tribal body that could manage the process of reorganizing the Tribe, but the majority of eligible Tribe members did not approve the General Council. (2015 AR 1401.)

         Plaintiffs challenged the December 2015 Decision and brought this suit against federal defendants under the APA. The court granted intervenor defendants' Motion to intervene on August 25, 2016. (Docket No. 29.) The court previously denied plaintiffs' Motion to stay ...

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