Chemehuevi Indian Tribe v. Jewell

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Indian Law
  • Date Filed: 09-17-2014
  • Case #: 12-56836
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Thomas for the Court; Circuit Judges Smith, Jr. and Christen
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the Indian Nonintercourse Act, even though a tribe would still hold title to the land, an assignment of a deed that grants control similar to that of fee simple ownership requires Congress’s approval.

In 2001, the Tribal Council of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe (“the Tribe”) enacted an ordinance that allowed the Tribe to approve and assign land deeds to tribal members in the hopes of enticing members to move back onto the Tribe’s reservation, where the assignment would allow the Tribe members to occupy the land in a way similar to fee simple ownership. As required under 25 U.S.C. § 81, the Tribe submitted the deeds for approval to the Bureau of Indian Affairs which, after an appeal to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals, ultimately concluded that the approval of the deeds would be in violation of 25 U.S.C. § 117, as the deeds are conveyances and would only be valid if approved by Congress. The Tribe then filed suit alleging that the Secretary violated the Administrative Procedure Act, to which the district court granted summary judgment to Jewell after applying the Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. analysis. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court was proper in its reasoning, in that the Tribe was not allowed to give members deeds that allow ownership similar to fee simple and the Interior Secretary was not authorized by statute to approve the conveyances of the deeds. Since the conveyance of the deeds was done in a manner similar to a conveyance of fee simple, to where the Tribe would only be able to reclaim the land in limited circumstances, the Tribe would be required to gain Congress’s approval pursuant to the Indian Nonintercourse Act, even though the Tribe would still hold title to the land. AFFIRMED.

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