SAN FRANCISCO -- The United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Water Wheel Camp Recreation Area, Inc. vs. LaRance. The main issue in the case is whether an Indian Tribe can bring suit in its own courts to evict a trespasser who is not a member of the Tribe but who has operated a business on tribal land pursuant to a lease with the Tribe.
"The Court will address issues central to Indian Tribe sovereignty in this case," said attorney Winter King of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, who submitted an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT). "How the court rules here could threaten the very principle that Tribes have jurisdiction over what happens on their land."
Some US Indian tribes have tribal courts through which they adjudicate civil disputes. Under a 1981 Supreme Court case, United States v. Montana, tribal courts have jurisdiction over non-members in certain circumstances. Montana explicitly notes that one such circumstance is when a non-member has a consensual relationship with the tribe and threatens the economic security of the tribe.
Water Wheel v. LaRance involves a tribal court's review of a landlord-tenant dispute. In 1975, Water Wheel leased land from CRIT to develop and operate a resort. The resort operated on the Tribes' land pursuant to a lease for more than 25 years. In 2007, the lease expired and the Tribes asked the resort owner to leave, but he refused.
The tribal court found in favor of the Tribes when the issue was brought before it. But the resort owner refused to abide by the decision, insisting that the court did not have jurisdiction despite ample evidence of a consensual relationship. The owner's refusal to pay rent or vacate the property threatened the Tribes' economic security.
The Federal District Court agreed that the Tribal Court had jurisdiction over the resort itself, but not over the resort owner. Both parties in Water Wheel v. Larance have appealed elements of the District Court's ruling.
Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP specializes in government, land use, natural resource and environmental law. Attorney Winter King has represented Tribes and their interests in cases before United States Federal District and Appellate Courts.