The Mechoopda Tribe plans to build a casino at this site along Highway 149 near Oroville, California. Image: Google Maps
California | Litigation | NIGC

Appeals court schedules hearing in long-running Mechoopda Tribe gaming case



A federal appeals court is hearing arguments next month in a long-running lawsuit that has kept the Mechoopda Tribe has from opening a casino on ancestral territory in California.

The tribe was terminated by Congress in 1958. A lawsuit resulted in the restoration of its federal status in 1992, by which time the original Mechoopda Rancheria was down to just one 0.25-acre parcel in Chico, The Chico Enterprise-Record reported earlier this month.

“That whole area is important to the tribe,” Vice Chair Sandra Knight told the paper. “It was the last rancheria.”

The tribe is now seeking to rebuild its homeland with a 645-acre site only 10 miles from the original rancheria. But a land-into-trust application submitted in 2004 has never been finalized amid opposition from Butte County.

The Bush administration, the Obama administration and, most recently, a federal judge have backed the tribe's efforts. But the county is hoping the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will put a halt to the project after hearing arguments on September 15.

"The Mechoopda tribe is both a sovereign nation recognized by the U.S. government and integral to Butte County. Its right to self-determination is guaranteed by federal law. The Mechoopda have obtained all the required permits to build a casino and develop 91 acres out of a 625-acre parcel," professor Sara Trechter of Friends of the Mechoopda wrote in an opinion for The Chico News-Review on Thursday. "If the county’s appeal succeeds, it thwarts the Mechoopda’s economic development plans to provide funding for education, healthcare and eldercare from casino revenues."

The Bureau of Indian Affairs originally approved the tribe's application in 2008 but the county's lawsuit led to a reconsideration. The agency approved the application again in 2014 -- documents are available at bia.gov/WhatWeDo/ServiceOverview/Gaming. Environmental review documents can be found at reports.analyticalcorp.net/mechoopda

Generally, land acquired in trust after 1988 cannot be used for gaming. But Section 20 of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act includes an exception for tribes, like the Mechoopda, that were restored to federal recognition.

As a result, the National Indian Gaming Commission determined that the site can be used for a casino.

The appeal will be heard by three judges -- Merrick Garland, Robert Wilkins and Harry Edwards. Garland was former president Barack Obama's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court but Republicans refused to consider him.

District Court Decision:
Butte County v. Chaudhuri (July 15, 2016)

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Butte County v. Hogen (July 13, 2010)

Federal Register Notice:
Land Acquisitions; Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria of California (February 27, 2014)

National Indian Gaming Commission Indian Lands Opinions:
January 24, 2014 | March 14, 2003

Related Stories:
Sara Trechter: County wastes more than $600,000 battling Mechoopda Tribe casino (August 10, 2017)
Mechoopda Tribe offers olive branch on casino but county refuses (August 3, 2016)
Mechoopda Tribe aims to work with county on delayed casino (July 21, 2016)
Mechoopda Tribe wins decision in long-running casino litigation (July 18, 2016)