Alto v. Black

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Tribal Law
  • Date Filed: 12-26-2013
  • Case #: 12-56145
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Berzon for the Court; Circuit Judge Watford and Senior District Judge Carr
  • Full Text Opinion

The Band's Constitution vested the BIA with ultimate authority over tribal membership, and so the court had jurisdiction to enjoin preliminarily the enforcement of the order upholding the Tribe's decision to disenroll descendants of a member from the Band while the Band was not a required party under FRCP 19 because its absence did not deny complete relief, and the Band's interest was adequately represented by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians’ (“Band”) Constitution gives the Secretary of the Interior final authority over tribal enrollment decisions. Marcus Alto, Sr. and his descendants applied for tribal membership which the BIA granted and the BIA’s Assistant Secretary- Indian Affairs affirmed the decision based on the federal regulations. Later a Band member contended that Alto and his descendants should be disenrolled as he was an adoptive son and did not possess the degree of Indian blood required for membership. The Committee voted to disenroll the members, but the BIA Regional Director denied the request to approve the disenrollment decision. Upon appeal, the Assistant Secretary- Indian Affairs reversed the decision and issued a Disenrollment Order which is challenged in this suit. The Altos sued federal officials and sought injunctive relief invalidating the Disenrollment Order and maintaining tribal membership benefits including voting rights and healthcare services because of various agency errors including the doctrine of res judicata, violation of due process, and arbitrary agency action. After the preliminary injunction was in place, the Band, an intervener, contended the suit should be dismissed because the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction and failed under FRCP 19 to join a required party, the Band. After an unfavorable ruling the Band appealed. The Ninth Circuit found that the court did have proper jurisdiction because the federal question is whether the BIA violated the APA. The panel held that the exercise of jurisdiction was proper, and that the Band is not a required party for the adjudication of the claims underlying the preliminary injunction, as they concern solely the propriety of final agency action. The panel remanded for clarification of the order and dismissed for lack of jurisdiction to review on interlocutory appeal the Band’s motion to dismiss the Altos’ other claims. AFFIRMED IN PART, DISMISSED IN PART, AND REMANDED.

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