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Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

August 13, 2018

ALABAMA-QUASSARTE TRIBAL TOWN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; RYAN ZINKE, Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior; JAMES CASON, Associate Deputy of the Department of the Interior; STEVEN MNUCHIN, Secretary of the Treasury; MUSCOGEE (CREEK) NATION, Defendants-Appellees.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma (D.C. No. 6:06-CV-00558-RAW)

          Eugene K. Bertman, Talley, Turner & Bertman, Norman, Oklahoma for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Brian C. Toth, Environment & Natural Resources Division, Department of Justice, Washington D.C. (Jeffrey H. Wood, Eric Grant, Anthony P. Hoang, and Jody H. Schwarz, Environment & Natural Resources Division, Department of Justice; Kenneth A. Dalton and Shani N. Walker, Office of the Solicitor, Department of the Interior; Thomas Kearns, Office of the Chief Counsel, Bureau of the Fiscal Service, Department of the Treasury, with him on the brief), for Defendants-Appellees United States of America, Ryan Zinke, James Cason, and Steven Mnuchin.

          Keith B. Bartsch, Atkinson, Haskins, Nellis, Brittingham, Gladd & Fiasco, Tulsa Oklahoma (Galen L. Brittingham, Atkinson, Haskins, Nellis, Brittingham, Gladd & Fiasco, with him on the brief), for Defendant-Appellee Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

          Before LUCERO, McKAY, and MORITZ, Circuit Judges.

          LUCERO, Circuit Judge.

         Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town ("AQTT") appeals several orders entered in favor of the United States, the Secretary and Associate Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior ("DOI"), the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation (the "Creek Nation"). Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

         I

         AQTT is a federally recognized Indian Tribe organized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act ("OIWA"). It is part of a confederacy of autonomous tribal towns that form the Creek Nation. In December 2006, AQTT filed a complaint against the United States and several federal officials (collectively, the "Federal Defendants"). AQTT alleged that certain property known as the Wetumka Project lands were purchased under OIWA for the benefit of AQTT. It requested a declaratory judgment and an order compelling the government to assign the Wetumka Project lands to AQTT and provide AQTT with a full and complete accounting of related trust funds and assets.

         On the Federal Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, the district court dismissed AQTT's claim for land assignment and denied the motion as to an accounting of trust assets. The parties then promptly filed cross-motions for summary judgment. All were denied. The case was remanded to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals ("IBIA") for further development of the trust accounting issue. After the IBIA decided that the government did not hold any funds in trust for AQTT, the case returned to district court.

         AQTT filed an amended complaint, now adding the Creek Nation as a defendant and arguing that the IBIA's decision was arbitrary and capricious. The Creek Nation filed a motion to dismiss. That motion was granted on sovereign immunity grounds. In the amended complaint, AQTT also attempted to revive its land assignment claim based on newly discovered evidence. The district court again dismissed the claim. AQTT and the Federal Defendants then renewed their cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court upheld the IBIA's decision. The matter is now before us on appeal.

         II

         In granting the government's motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, the district court dismissed AQTT's claims for assignment of the Wetumka Project lands for failure to join the Creek Nation, an indispensable party. "[W]hether an absent party is necessary and/or indispensable is resolved by applying Rule 19 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure." Davis v. United States, 192 F.3d 951, 957 (10th Cir. 1999). Although we review a district court's Rule 19 determinations for abuse of discretion, "[u]nderlying legal conclusions supporting" those determinations are reviewed de novo. Id. Whether an absent party is indispensable involves a two-part analysis. Rishell v. Jane Phillips Episcopal Mem'l Med. Ctr., 94 F.3d 1407, 1411 (10th Cir. 1996). Initially, we consider "whether the party is necessary to the suit." Id. If "the absent party is necessary but cannot be joined, the court must then determine under Rule 19(b) whether the party is indispensable." Id.

         An absent party is necessary to a suit if: (1) "in that person's absence, the court cannot accord complete relief among the existing parties" or (2) "that person claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that disposing of the action in the person's absence may" either "as a practical matter impair or impede the person's ability to protect the interest" or "leave an existing party subject to a substantial risk of incurring double, ...


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