Robinson Rancheria of Pomo Indians v. Salazar et al

Filing 18

ORDER by Judge Samuel Conti granting 7 Motion to Dismiss; denying 12 Motion for Summary Judgment (sclc1, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 1/14/2013)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 8 FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 For the Northern District of California United States District Court 9 ROBINSON RANCHERIA OF POMO INDIANS, 11 Plaintiff, 12 v. 13 14 15 16 17 KENNETH SALAZAR, in his official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior; AMY DUTSCHKE, in her official capacity as Pacific Regional Director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 18 Defendants. 19 ) Case No. 12-cv-04885-SC ) ) ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' ) MOTION TO DISMISS ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) 20 21 22 I. INTRODUCTION This matter arises out of a request by the Robinson Rancheria 23 of Pomo Indians (the "Tribe") to the Bureau of Indian Affairs 24 ("BIA") to call a "Secretarial election" to approve proposed 25 amendments to the Tribe's constitution. 26 Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior (the 27 "Secretary") and the Regional Director of BIA (collectively, 28 "Defendants") violated the Indian Reorganization Act ("IRA"), 25 The Tribe alleges that the 1 U.S.C. § 476, by failing to call and conduct an election within 2 ninety days of the receipt of the Tribe's request. 3 ("Compl.") ¶¶ 17-18. 4 subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil 5 Procedure 12(b)(1). 6 fully briefed, ECF Nos. 9 ("Opp'n"), 10 ("Reply"), and appropriate 7 for determination without oral argument. 8 Tribe's claims are now moot and, therefore, GRANTS Defendants' 9 Motion to Dismiss.1 ECF No. 1 Defendants now move to dismiss for lack of ECF No. 7 ("MTD"). The Motion to Dismiss is The Court finds that the United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 11 II. BACKGROUND On April 3, 2012, the Robinson Rancheria Business Council (the 12 13 "Council"), the Tribe's governing body, adopted a resolution 14 requesting that the Secretary call and conduct an election among 15 the eligible voters of the Tribe to amend the Tribe's Constitution 16 (hereinafter, the "Resolution"). 17 same day, the Council sent the Resolution to Troy Burdick, the 18 Superintendent of BIA. 19 the provisions of the constitution that the Council sought to amend 20 and provided the text of the proposed amendments. Compl. ¶¶ 5, 10, Ex. A. Id. ¶ 11, Ex. B. On the The Resolution identified Id. Ex. A. 21 On June 11, 2012, Mr. Burdick sent a letter to the Tribe's 22 chairperson, stating that, although the proposed amendments were in 23 compliance with federal law and acceptable to BIA, the Secretarial 24 election process was "stopped" because the Council's request did 25 not comply with 25 C.F.R. Part 81. 26 claimed that the Council's request, as set forth in the Resolution, Id. Ex. C. Specifically, BIA 27 28 1 Also pending before the Court is the Tribe's motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 12. That motion is DENIED as moot. 2 1 was improper because: (1) a copy of the text of the proposed 2 amendments was contained in the body of the Resolution rather than 3 on a separate piece of paper, and (2) the text of the proposed 4 amendments was numbered, rather than labeled alphabetically. 5 The letter concluded: "Upon receipt of the proposed amendments in 6 its proper format, [BIA] will continue the process to request an 7 authorization to conduct the Secretarial election." Id. Id. 8 On July 5, 2012, the Tribe's attorney sent a letter to Mr. 9 Burdick, stating that BIA's position was unfounded, the Tribe's United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 request was proper, and the Secretary had a mandatory duty to call 11 an election within ninety days of receipt of the Resolution. 12 Compl. Ex. E. 13 within seven business days or refused to call and conduct the 14 Tribe's election, the Tribe might bring an action in federal court. 15 Id. 16 The letter also stated that if BIA failed to respond After receiving the July 5 letter, BIA apparently reversed 17 course on the Tribe's election request. 18 Burdick submitted the Tribe's request to the BIA Regional Director 19 for review and authorization to call a Secretarial election. 20 No. 8 ("Burdick Decl.") ¶ 6, Ex. E. 21 Regional Director authorized a Secretarial election on the Tribe's 22 proposed constitutional amendments. 23 13, 2012, BIA mailed an election notice packet to all of the 24 Tribe's eligible voters, informing them that an election on the 25 proposed amendments to the Tribe's constitution would be held on 26 February 9, 2013. 27 28 On July 17, 2012, Mr. ECF On August 15, 2012, BIA's Id. ¶ 7, Ex. G. On November Id. ¶ 11, Ex. J. On September 18, 2012, before the election notice was mailed, the Tribe filed the instant action. 3 The Tribe's Complaint asserts 1 three causes of action: (1) violation of the IRA, (2) breach of 2 trust, and (3) violation of the Administrative Procedure Act 3 ("APA"). 4 predicated on Defendants' alleged failure to call and conduct a 5 tribal election. 6 the Court to enjoin Defendants from refusing to call and conduct 7 the requested election and to declare that Defendants violated the 8 IRA, the APA, and their trust obligations in failing to call and 9 conduct the election. Compl. ¶¶ 16-30. All three causes of action are See id. ¶¶ 17-18, 23, 27-28. The Tribe prays for Id. at 8-9. United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 11 III. DISCUSSION Defendants move to dismiss for lack of subject matter 12 13 jurisdiction on the grounds that: (1) Congress has not waived 14 sovereign immunity over the Tribe's claims; (2) the Tribe has 15 failed to exhaust its administrative remedies and, thus, cannot 16 state a claim under the APA; and (3) the Tribe's claims are moot.2 17 MTD at 3. 18 thus, need not and does not address Defendants' other arguments. The Court finds that the Tribe's claims are moot and, The instant action arose out of a controversy between BIA and 19 20 the Tribe concerning the format of Tribe's request for a 21 Secretarial election. 22 controversy was rendered moot when BIA decided to abandon its 23 objections to the format of the Tribe's request and the Secretary 24 authorized the Tribe's requested election. 25 E, G, J. 26 any judgment on the merits of the case would not affect the rights 27 2 28 See Compl. ¶¶ 17-18, 23, 27-28. That See Burdick Decl. Exs. As a result of the decision to authorize the election, Defendants also move dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on the ground that the Tribe cannot state a claim for breach of trust. MTD at 3. 4 1 of the parties. 2 jurisdiction over this matter. 3 Constitution, which provides that the exercise of judicial power 4 depends upon the existence of a case or controversy, U.S. Const. 5 art. III, § 2, bars federal courts from hearing moot cases. 6 Prot. Info. Ctr., Inc. v. Pac. Lumber Co., 257 F.3d 1071, 1076 (9th 7 Cir. 2001). 8 9 Accordingly, the Court cannot properly exercise Article III of the United States Envtl. The Tribe concedes that its request for injunctive relief is now moot, but argues that its request for declaratory relief United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 continues to present a live case or controversy. Opp'n at 8. 11 Tribe reasons that Defendants violated § 476 by failing to call an 12 election within ninety days of their request and that the violation 13 was not rendered moot by Defendants' later actions. 14 further argues that "if the defendants can avoid even a declaration 15 that they have failed to meet the requirements of [§] 476, the time 16 limits set forth in [§] 476 are meaningless." 17 This line of argument is unavailing. Id. The The Tribe Id. "When a plaintiff seeks 18 declaratory relief, as here, the test for mootness . . . is whether 19 the facts alleged, under all the circumstances, show that there is 20 a substantial controversy, between parties having adverse legal 21 interests, of sufficient immediacy and reality to warrant the 22 issuance of a declaratory judgment." 23 v. Lohn, 511 F.3d 960, 963 (9th Cir. 2007) (quotations omitted). 24 In other words, "the central question" is "whether changes in 25 circumstances . . . have forestalled any occasion for meaningful 26 relief." 27 that BIA violated § 476 would have no meaningful effect on the 28 rights of Tribe or the obligations of BIA. Id. (quotations omitted). 5 Ctr. For Biological Diversity Here, a judicial declaration In fact, it would 1 amount to nothing more than an advisory opinion on § 476 and a slap 2 on the wrist for BIA. 3 finding of mootness does not render § 476 meaningless. 4 this Order precludes the Tribe or others similarly situated from 5 moving for injunctive relief to enforce the ninety-day time limit 6 set forth in § 476 if BIA refuses to call and conduct a Secretarial 7 election in the future. Nothing in The Tribe also implies that the "voluntary cessation" 8 9 Further, contrary to the Tribe's argument, a exception to the mootness doctrine applies here, arguing that "[i]f United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 this Court does not declare that the defendants failed to meet 11 their statutory duty to timely call the election, BIA officials 12 will have no incentive to comply [with their duties] until tribes 13 file suit." 14 "th[e] voluntary cessation of allegedly illegal conduct does not 15 deprive the [court] of power to hear and determine the case, i.e., 16 does not make the case moot, unless there is no reasonable 17 expectation that the wrong will be repeated." 18 of Cal. v. Fed. Energy Regulatory Comm'n, 100 F.3d 1451, 1460 (9th 19 Cir. 1996) (quotations omitted). 20 pointed to any evidence suggesting that the alleged wrong will be 21 repeated. 22 the Tribe's request less than two weeks after they were contacted 23 by the Tribe's lawyer and several weeks before the Tribe filed 24 suit. 25 this exception to apply, the defendant's voluntary cessation must 26 have arisen because of the litigation."). 27 indication that Defendants have a regular practice of denying Opp'n at 9. Under the voluntary cessation exception, Pub. Utils. Comm'n In this case, the Tribe has not Defendants withdrew their objections to the format of See id. ("[W]e have previously implied that, in order for 28 6 There is also no 1 requests for Secretarial elections based on the specific technical 2 objections described in the Complaint. 3 4 5 IV. CONCLUSION For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that this action is 6 moot and declines to exercise subject matter jurisdiction. 7 Defendants Kenneth Salazar and Amy Dutschke's Motion to Dismiss is 8 GRANTED. 9 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 IT IS SO ORDERED. 11 12 13 Dated: January 14, 2013 UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 7

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