MDEWAKANTON SIOUX INDIANS OF MINNESOTA et al v. JEWELL et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION denying 17 Plaintiffs' Motion for temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. See document for details. Signed by Judge Rudolph Contreras on 6/9/2017. (lcrc1)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
MDEWAKANTON SIOUX INDIANS
OF MINNESOTA, et al.,
RYAN ZINKE, Secretary,
United States Department of the Interior, et al., :
Civil Action No.:
Re Document No.:
DENYING PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION FOR TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER
AND A PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION
Plaintiffs are currently engaged in litigation to compel various federal entities to
recognize them as an American Indian tribe. Plaintiffs now seek a temporary restraining order,
followed by a preliminary injunction, barring an election to amend the constitution of a different
tribe, because Plaintiffs assert the amendments would impair their rights. Because Plaintiffs fail
to demonstrate an irreparable injury, neither a temporary restraining order nor a preliminary
injunction is appropriate.
Plaintiffs are several individuals and the Mdewakanton Sioux Indians of Minnesota,
which they allege is an American Indian tribe to which they belong. Compl. at 2, ECF No. 1.
Secretary Zinke is substituted as a defendant in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil
Plaintiffs brought suit in this Court to compel the United States defendants “to acknowledge [the
tribe’s] existence and to enjoin the United States from continuing arbitrary decisions without
informing the [tribe] that have the consequence of adversely affecting the rights or potential
rights of the [tribe].” Compl. at 2. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on several
grounds, see generally Fed. Defs.’ Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 10, and that motion remains pending.
Plaintiffs now seek a temporary restraining order, followed by a preliminary injunction,
to stop the June 14, 2017 Secretarial election of the Prairie Island Indian Community.2 See
generally Pl.’s Mem. Supp. Mot. Temp. Restraining Order & Prelim. Inj. (Pl.’s Mot.), ECF No.
17. Plaintiffs assert that the amendments to the Prairie Island Indian Community’s constitution at
issue in the election would impair Plaintiffs’ tribal rights. Pl.’s Mot. at 7–9; see also Pl.’s Mot. at
3 (asserting that the proposed amendments, if passed, would “effectively terminate [Plaintiffs’
tribe] without congressional Act”).
III. LEGAL STANDARD
“Preliminary injunctive relief, whether in the form of a temporary restraining order or a
preliminary injunction, provides an ‘extraordinary remedy’ that is ‘never awarded as of right.’”
Paleteria La Michoacana, Inc. v. Productos Lacteos Tocumbo S.A. de C.V., 901 F. Supp. 2d 54,
55–56 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting Winter v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 24 (2008)).
Because a temporary restraining order is “an extraordinary and drastic remedy,” it should not be
granted “unless the movant, by a clear showing, carries the burden of persuasion.” Nat’l Head
Although the proposed order attached to Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction
appears to be entered in error, see ECF No. 17-44, the Court understands Plaintiffs to seek first a
temporary restraining order and then a preliminary injunction providing that “no future
Secretarial Elections shall be held without prior approval by this Court.” Pl.’s Mot. at 10, ECF
Start Ass’n v. Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., 297 F. Supp. 2d 242, 246 (D.D.C. 2004)
(quoting Mazurek v. Armstrong, 520 U.S. 968, 972 (1997)).
In order to receive preliminary injunctive relief, the movant must demonstrate “(1) that it
has a strong likelihood of success on the merits, (2) that it will suffer irreparable injury if
injunctive relief is denied, (3) that other interested parties will not suffer substantial harm if
injunctive relief is granted, and (4) that the public interest favors the granting of injunctive relief,
(or at least, that the granting of injunctive relief is not adverse to the public interest).” Paleteria
La Michoacana, 901 F. Supp. 2d at 56 (citing Wash. Metro. Area Transit Comm’n v. Holiday
Tours, Inc., 559 F.2d 841, 843 (D.C. Cir. 1977) and Federation Internationale de Football Ass’n
v. Nike, Inc., 285 F. Supp. 2d 64, 68 (D.D.C. 2003)).
Regardless of how the other three factors are analyzed,3 it is required that the movant
demonstrate an irreparable injury. See, e.g., Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches v. England, 454
F.3d 290, 297 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (“A movant’s failure to show any irreparable harm is therefore
grounds for refusing to issue a preliminary injunction, even if the other three factors entering the
calculus merit such relief.”).
Plaintiffs argue in favor of a sliding scale approach to evaluating the four factors, in
which a stronger showing on one factor can be used to compensate for a weaker showing on a
different factor. Pl.’s Mot. at 23, ECF No. 17. The legal foundation for the sliding scale approach
is uncertain after the Supreme Court’s decision in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council,
Inc., 555 U.S. 7 (2008). See, e.g., League of Women Voters of United States v. Newby, 838 F.3d
1, 7 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (“This court, however, has not yet needed to decide [if the sliding scale
approach remains viable]. . . . [T]his case presents no occasion for the court to decide whether
the ‘sliding scale’ approach remains valid after Winter.”). Because, as discussed above, Plaintiffs
do not demonstrate an irreparable injury, which is a necessary showing for preliminary injunctive
relief, the Court need not resolve this issue today.
The Court considers if Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they will suffer an irreparable
harm absent the issuance of a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction, and
concludes that they have not. Because showing an irreparable injury is mandatory, the Court
does not consider the remaining factors.
Plaintiffs’ motion devotes only a single paragraph to discussing the irreparable injury
requirement. Pl.’s Mot. at 43–44. Plaintiffs argue that preliminary injunctive relief is necessary
to avoid increased litigation expenses, specifically, that:
Due to the actions of the federal guardian leaving the [Plaintiffs] without
resources, the cost of the litigation is being borne by the Plaintiffs. The Plaintiffs’
resources are limited. If the Plaintiffs’ resources are exhausted by litigation
expense, the litigation will end—an irreparable injury. Preserving the legal status
quo reduces the cost of this litigation and makes it more likely the Plaintiffs will
cross the litigation finish line.
Pl.’s Mot. at 43–44.
However, it is well established that litigation expenses are not an irreparable injury. The
D.C. Circuit “has set a high standard for irreparable injury.” Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches
v. England, 454 F.3d 290, 297 (D.C. Cir. 2006). In general, “economic loss does not, in and of
itself, constitute irreparable harm.” Nat’l Mining Ass’n v. Jackson, 768 F. Supp. 2d 34, 50
(D.D.C. 2011) (citing Wis. Gas Co. v. FERC, 758 F.2d 669, 674 (D.C. Cir. 1985)). This is
because an irreparable injury is one which is “beyond remediation”—and for economic harms
“‘[t]he possibility that adequate compensatory or other corrective relief will be available at a
later date, in the ordinary course of litigation weighs heavily against a claim of irreparable
harm.’” Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches, 454 F.3d at 297–98 (quoting Wisc. Gas Co. v.
FERC, 758 F.2d 669, 674 (D.C. Cir. 1985) (per curiam)).
The rule against economic losses constituting irreparable harm applies with full force to
litigation expenses. Litigation costs cannot constitute an irreparable injury for the purposes of
granting a preliminary injunction. See Live365, Inc. v. Copyright Royalty Bd., 698 F. Supp. 2d
25, 45 (D.D.C. 2010) (noting that “[t]he Supreme Court has held that ‘[m]ere litigation expense,
even substantial and unrecoupable cost, does not constitute irreparable injury,’” even when those
costs “are likely to be substantial” (quoting FTC v. Standard Oil Co., 449 U.S. 232, 244 (1980))).
The irreparable harm alleged by Plaintiffs is precisely the type of litigation costs
previously rejected by the Supreme Court, and Plaintiffs offer no legal authority to the contrary.
As to Plaintiffs’ suggestion that they may not be able to “cross the litigation finish line,”
Plaintiffs cite no cases suggesting that this outcome would constitute an irreparable harm. Even
if such a harm could suffice, Plaintiffs have not stated the applicable facts here with any
specificity. Plaintiffs provide nothing more than a conclusory statement: they do not describe
their expected expenses, expected costs, or the possible effects of denying preliminary injunctive
relief on either. Indeed, the Court notes that briefing of Defendants’ dispositive motion is already
complete,4 which presumably represents a large portion of expected litigation expenses (barring
the instant motion, which Plaintiffs initiated).
In their reply, Plaintiffs expand their discussion of irreparable injury from one paragraph
to two. See Pl.’s Reply Mem. Supp. Mot. (Pl’s Reply) at 9–10, ECF No. 19. However, Plaintiffs
still do not elaborate on the irreparable injury posed by litigation costs, except to state
conclusorily that “Plaintiffs are not in a position of funding years of litigation.” Pl.’s Reply at 9.
Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, ECF No. 10, which Plaintiffs opposed, ECF No.
13, and Defendants replied, ECF No. 14. Also pending are Defendants’ motion for judicial
notice, ECF No. 11, and Plaintiffs’ motion to file a surreply concerning the motion to dismiss,
ECF No. 15.
Plaintiffs’ claims that they may run out of money remain speculative and unclear. As discussed
above, this does not suffice to overcome the general rule that litigation expenses are not an
irreparable injury. Plaintiffs also briefly attempt to introduce a new irreparable injury. See Pl.’s
Reply at 9. However, because this argument is new in Plaintiffs’ reply, the Court will not
consider it.5 See Morgan Drexen, Inc. v. Consumer Fin. Prot. Bureau, 785 F.3d 684, 695 n.3
(D.C. Cir. 2015) (refusing to consider new arguments for irreparable injury in a movant’s reply
brief because the opposing party “had no opportunity to respond” and the movant “offer[ed] no
reason, much less an extraordinary one, for its failure to raise these arguments in its opening
brief” (citing CTS Corp. v. EPA, 759 F.3d 52, 60 (D.C. Cir. 2014) and United States v. Whren,
111 F.3d 956, 958 (D.C. Cir. 1997))).
Even if the Court considered the new arguments in Plaintiffs’ reply, Plaintiffs have
failed to demonstrate an irreparable injury. An irreparable injury must “be both certain and
great,” and “actual and not theoretical.” Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches v. England, 454
F.3d 290, 297 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (internal citations and quotations omitted); see also id. (“The
moving party must show ‘[t]he injury complained of is of such imminence that there is a “clear
and present” need for equitable relief to prevent irreparable harm.’” (citations omitted)).
Plaintiffs argue that “[n]one of the post-election procedures will restore to the [Plaintiffs]
the pre-election right to request or object to the June 14, 2017 Secretarial election.” Pl.’s Reply at
9. The suggestion that Plaintiffs may lose some ability to object to the election is new in their
reply. See, e.g., Pl.’s Mot. at 44, ECF No. 17 (summarizing the dispute over the Secretarial
election as: “[Plaintiffs] contend the June 14, 2017 proposed Constitution is contrary to federal
law”). However, Plaintiffs do not discuss what pre-election objections they wish to bring or
explain why these alleged injuries would be great. Furthermore, Plaintiffs fail to explain why the
loss of any pre-election objection would be an irreparable injury, given the admitted availability
of post-election procedures.
Plaintiffs also suggest that they will be injured by the proposed amendments to the Prairie
Island Indian Community’s constitution, if enacted. Pl.’s Reply at 9. This alleged injury,
however, is neither certain nor actual. The outcome of the Secretarial election is undecided. Even
if the amendments prevail in the vote, the Secretary must still approve or disapprove the
amendments, 25 U.S.C. § 5123(d)(1), and that approval would constitute a final agency action
that Plaintiffs could challenge, 25 C.F.R. § 81.45(f). Cf. United Farm Workers v. Chao, 593 F.
Supp. 2d 166, 170 (D.D.C. 2009) (rejecting a motion for a temporary restraining order because
plaintiffs were unable to show that they would certainly be injured by new regulations).
As discussed above, Plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary
injunction fails because Plaintiffs do not demonstrate an irreparable injury. This conclusion is
further bolstered by the disfavored nature of injunctive relief barring an election when only one
outcome of the election would allegedly impair the movants rights. Because the proposed
measures may yet be voted down and the controversy avoided, many courts have declined to
enjoin elections in analogous circumstances. See, e.g., Ranjel v. City of Lansing, 417 F.2d 321,
325 (6th Cir. 1969) (reversing a preliminary injunction against a referendum on a proposition
that allegedly violated the Fourteenth Amendment because “[w]e believe the better practice [i]s
. . . [to] allow the election to proceed and rule on the validity of the measure after its
passage”), cert. denied, 397 U.S. 980 (1970); Nevada Rest. Ass’n v. Pest Comm., No. 3:08-CV00118, 2008 WL 8225546, at *4 (D. Nev. July 15, 2008) (“Insofar as the few federal courts that
have entertained such challenges [to ballot measures pre-election] are concerned, those courts
have only done so where the proposed measures were plainly unconstitutional.”); Ajax Gaming
Ventures, LLC v. Brown, No. CVIA 06-336, 2006 WL 2302192, at *2–3 (D.R.I. Aug. 8, 2006)
(“[T]he Court is not prepared to say without doubt that the proposed amendment is ‘patently’
unconstitutional, nor is this case of such an ‘exceptional’ nature as to warrant intervention before
the election has yet come to pass . . . . This Court may never be called upon to rule on the
constitutionality of the proposed amendment: the electorate may vote it down in November.
Courts should not wade into constitutionally torrid waters unless doing so is unavoidable. That is
not the case here.” (citations omitted)); Diaz v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs of Dade Cty., 502 F. Supp.
190, 193 (S.D. Fla. 1980) (“In this action, the plaintiffs claim they will be damaged by the results
of the referendum; they will not be damaged by the act of voting itself. This Court has decided
that the act of voting must be allowed. A determination of the constitutionality of the results
must wait until that now-hypothetical time when there may be actual results.”). The rare
exceptions to this rule occur mainly when the proposed measure is patently unconstitutional. See,
e.g., Otey v. Common Council of City of Milwaukee, 281 F. Supp. 264, 276 (E.D. Wis. 1968)
(blocking the submission of a “palpably unconstitutional” resolution to a referendum).
In this case, Plaintiffs have not argued, and this Court does not conclude, that the
proposed amendments are patently unconstitutional. As in other election cases, this Court is not
yet squarely faced with the controversy concerning the amendments because the proposed
amendments may be voted down. Furthermore, even if approved by the voters, the proposed
amendments face additional hurdles before they could take effect. The Secretary must either
approve or disapprove the amendments. 25 U.S.C. § 5123(d)(1). If the Secretary approves the
amendments, that approval would constitute a final agency action, 25 C.F.R. § 81.45(f),
presumably subject to APA challenge by Plaintiffs. These reasons bolster this Court’s conclusion
that preliminary relief to prevent the election is inappropriate.
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs’ Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and a
Preliminary Injunction (ECF No. 17) is DENIED. An order consistent with this Memorandum
Opinion is separately and contemporaneously issued.
Dated: June 9, 2017
United States District Judge
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