Law Article: Big Lagoon decision brings certainty to Indian gaming

An aerial view of Big Lagoon, home to the Big Lagoon Rancheria in California. Photo by Jim Popenoe

Attorneys Richard Duncan, Christiana Martenson and Leah Sixkiller discuss the significance of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Big Lagoon Rancheria v. California:
On June 4, 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its en banc decision in Big Lagoon Rancheria v. California, a case in which Big Lagoon Rancheria, a federally recognized Indian tribe, sought to compel the State of California to negotiate a new Class III gaming compact under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA). The en banc court affirmed the decision of the District Court, which held that California had failed to negotiate in good faith with Big Lagoon as required by IGRA. The ruling restores certainty to the federal government’s recognition of “Indian lands” and states’ obligations to negotiate gaming compacts in good faith with tribes.

Big Lagoon sought to build and operate a new casino on an 11-acre parcel of land which the United States accepted into trust for Big Lagoon in 1994. Under IGRA, however, Big Lagoon could only operate Class III gaming (slot machines and table games) on the 11-acre parcel if a compact between Big Lagoon and California authorized such gaming. When Big Lagoon and California failed to reach an agreement, Big Lagoon sued the state in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The District Court found that California had failed to negotiate in good faith under IGRA and ordered the parties to conclude a compact within 60 days.

The Ninth Circuit’s en banc decision largely restores the status quo. The decision re-establishes that land the United States has taken into trust for an Indian tribe constitutes “Indian lands” under IGRA, subject only to an APA challenge filed within the six-year statute of limitations. As a result, the Ninth Circuit effectively barred collateral attacks on the status of tribal trust lands after the expiration of the six-year statute of limitations, thereby returning certainty to tribes and others invested in the gameability of tribal lands.

Get the Story:
Richard Duncan, Christiana Martenson and Leah Sixkiller: En Banc Ninth Circuit Ruling Restores Certainty to Federal Recognition of "Indian Lands" (JD Supra 6/8)

Also Today:
Appeals court sides with tribes in fight over land decisions (AP 6/6)
Big Lagoon Rancheria can pursue casino under ruling (The Eureka Times-Standard 6/5)
Calif. Loses En Banc Challenge to Casino Plan (Courthouse News Service 6/4)

En Banc 9th Circuit Decision:
Big Lagoon Rancheria v. California (June 4, 2015)

Original 9th Circuit Decision:
Big Lagoon Rancheria v. California (January 21, 2014)

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