Q&A: Matthew Fletcher on Supreme Court casino land case

"The U.S. Supreme Court will decide during its 2012 session whether the federal government properly took into trust land in Michigan's Allegan County for the Gun Lake Band of Pottawatomi to build a casino. The justices could hear arguments as early as March with a decision in June before the summer recess. The decision could have far-reaching implications about taking land in trust.

Matthew L.M. Fletcher is a professor at the Michigan State University College of Law and director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center. An acknowledged authority on Indian gaming law, he has followed the case closely.

Thorpe: What in the appellate decision may have drawn the Supreme Court to the case?

Fletcher: There are probably two reasons this case has attracted the court's attention. The first is federal sovereign immunity. The Quiet Title Act expressly reserves federal immunity from suits claiming title to land held in trust by the federal government, unlike the rest of the statute which gives plaintiffs a 12 year window to sue. The D.C. circuit allowed Patchak's suit to go forward because he argued he wasn't claiming title to the land, and so the lower court allowed the case to proceed under the Administrative Procedures Act, which I believe has a six year window. Federal immunity cases are important to the court.

The second reason is the prudential standing question. The D.C. circuit held that Patchak had standing to sue. The court held that his concern about protecting the rural character of the community met the zone of interests test that implicates standing under the APA. The rural character of a community is sufficiently subjective to at least be a questionable basis for injury in fact. Standing questions also tend to attract the court's interest because of a general concern about the federal government's ability to govern without a lot of frivolous lawsuits barring the government's way."

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Asked and Answered (Legal News 1/19)

DC Circuit Decision:
Patchak v. Salazar (January 21, 2011)

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