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Chapter v. Jewell

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

July 11, 2017

RAMAH NAVAJO CHAPTER, OGLALA SIOUX TRIBE, and PUEBLO OF ZUNI, for themselves and on behalf of a class of persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
SALLY JEWELL, Secretary of Interior, in her official capacity, LAWRENCE S. ROBERTS, Acting Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs, in his official capacity, and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendants.
v.
PICAYUNE RANCHERIA OF CHUKCHANSI INDIANS, CHANCE ALBERTA, NANCY AYALA, TRACEY BRECHBUEHL, CARL “BUZZ” BUSHMAN, LUKE DAVIS, CLAUDIA GONZALEZ, HAROLD HAMMOND, PATRICK HAMMOND III, NOKOMIS HERNANDEZ, DIXIE JACKSON, DORA JONES, REGGIE LEWIS, MORRIS REID, CHARLES SARGOSA, JENNIFER STANLEY, TOM WALKER, IRENE WALTZ, and KAREN WYNN, Defendants-in-Interpleader.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING UNOPPOSED MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT IN INTERPLEADER ACTION

         On June 22, 2017 seven Defendants-in-Interpleader filed the following: (1) NOTICE OF MOTION AND UNOPPOSED MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT by Defendants-in- Interpleader PICAYUNE RANCHERIA OF CHUKCHANSI INDIANS, CLAUDIA GONZALES, HAROLD HAMMOND, PATRICK HAMMOND III, DIXIE JACKSON, MORRIS REID, and TOM WALKER (Doc. No. 1507) (Notice); (2) UNOPPOSED MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT by Defendants-in-Interpleader PICAYUNE RANCHERIA OF CHUKCHANSI INDIANS, CLAUDIA GONZALES, HAROLD HAMMOND, PATRICK HAMMOND III, DIXIE JACKSON, MORRIS REID, and TOM WALKER (Doc. No. 1508) (Motion); and (3) DECLARATION OF CLAUDIA GONZALES in support of the UNOPPOSED MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT by Defendants-in-Interpleader PICAYUNE RANCHERIA OF CHUKCHANSI INDIANS, CLAUDIA GONZALES, HAROLD HAMMOND, PATRICK HAMMOND III, DIXIE JACKSON, MORRIS REID, and TOM WALKER (Doc. No. 1509) (Gonzales Decl.). The Defendants in the main action and the Class Representative Plaintiffs, who are also the Plaintiffs-in-Interpleader, consent to the Motion. All of the remaining Defendants-in-Interpleader, except one, have consented to the Motion. Defendant-in-Interpleader Jennifer Stanley has not explicitly consented to the Motion. Ms. Stanley was served with the summons and the Complaint-in-Interpleader but has not timely filed a responsive pleading. (Notice at p. 2.) Ms. Stanley was also given notice of the Motion and has not filed a timely response. Under Local Rule 7.1(b) she is deemed to have consented to the Motion.[1] The Court will grant the Motion as to all Defendants-in-Interpleader on the merits. As to Ms. Stanley, the Court will also grant the Motion under Local Rule 7.1(b).

         In the Motion, Defendants-in-Interpleader Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians (Picayune Rancheria or Tribe), Claudia Gonzales (Chairwoman Gonzales), Harold Hammond (H. Hammond), Patrick Hammond III (P. Hammond), Dixie Jackson (Jackson), Morris Reid (Reid), and Tom Walker (Walker) assert that the undisputed facts show the leadership dispute regarding the governance of Picayune Rancheria has been resolved and that current Chairwoman Gonzales is the proper person to act on behalf of the Picayune Rancheria. The Court agrees and will order the Settlement Administrator to send the Tribe's Claim Form to Chairwoman Gonzales, to accept the Claim Form properly executed by Chairwoman Gonzales, and to disburse the Tribe's share of the settlement funds ($927, 087.36) according to the instructions of Chairwoman Gonzales.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         Under the Final Settlement Agreement (Doc. No. 1306-1), Picayune Rancheria, identified as Class Member No. 455, is entitled to receive the amount of $927, 087.36, less any Treasury deductions. See Motion (Doc. No. 1361), Ex. B (Doc. No. 1361-2), ORDER (Doc. No. 1362). To receive its share of the Net Settlement Amount, however, a person with authority to act for the Tribe must execute a Claim Form. A dispute arose as to which member of the Tribe had the authority to execute the Claim Form for the Tribe. On September 29, 2016, the Plaintiff Class, through Class Counsel, filed a COMPLAINT IN INTERPLEADER (Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians) (Doc. No. 1369) asking the Court to interplead the Tribe and all members claiming a right to govern the Tribe and to determine who is entitled to execute a Claim Form on behalf of the Tribe and to receive the Tribe's share of the settlement funds ($927, 087.36). (Compl. in Interpl. ¶ 9.)[2]

         In the Motion, the Court is asked to conclude that the Tribe has resolved its leadership dispute and that Chairwoman Gonzales leads the Tribal Council and is entitled to act on behalf of the Tribe.

         Rule 56 provides,

A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim or defense-on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Hence, the Court must determine whether the proffered evidence establishes who is entitled to execute the Claim Form on behalf of the Tribe. Foster v. Alliedsignal, Inc., 293 F.3d 1187, 1195 (10th Cir. 2002) (“[O]ur role is simply to determine whether the evidence proffered by plaintiff would be sufficient, if believed by the ultimate factfinder, to sustain her claim.”).

         B. INTERNAL TRIBAL GOVERNANCE

         In Wheeler v. United States Dept. of the Interior, the Tenth Circuit stated the axiom that only an Indian tribe has the authority to determine its self-governance. 811 F.2d 549, 551 (10th Cir. 1987). “[T]he Supreme Court has uniformly recognized that one of the fundamental aspects of tribal existence is the right to self-government.” Id. (citations omitted). “Tribal election disputes, like tribal elections, are key facets of internal tribal governance and are governed by tribal constitutions, statutes, or regulations.” Attorney's Process & Investigation Servs., Inc. v. Sac & Fox Tribe of Mississippi in Iowa, 609 F.3d 927, 943 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Felix Cohen, Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law § 4.06[1][b][ii] (5th ed.2005)). It is a long-standing matter of Indian law that “federal courts lack authority to resolve internal disputes about tribal law.” Cayuga Nation v. Tanner, 824 F.3d 321, 327 (2d Cir. 2016). Thus, tribal governance disputes, which are controlled by tribal law, “fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of tribal institutions.” Attorney's Process, 609 F.3d at 943. Once the dispute is resolved through internal tribal mechanisms, all parties must recognize the tribal leadership embraced by the tribe itself.

         Id.

         II. BACKGROUND: UNDISPUTED FACTS

         The Picayune Rancheria's constitution provides that the Tribe is governed by the seven-member Tribal Council. (Gonzales Decl. Ex. A.) The Tribal Council is elected by the General Council, which consists of all adult enrolled members of the Tribe. (Id. ¶ 5.) The Tribe's constitution empowers the Tribal Council to inter alia conduct ...


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