Big Lagoon Rancheria v. State of California

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Indian Law
  • Date Filed: 06-04-2015
  • Case #: 10-17803; 10-17878
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge O’Scannlain for the Court; Circuit Judges Pregerson, Reinhardt, Kozinski, Graber, Fletcher, Paez, Bybee, Smith, Christen, and Nguyen
  • Full Text Opinion

A class III gaming casino is only allowed on Indian lands if conducted in conformance with a Tribal-State compact entered into by the Indian tribe and the state, from which the State has an obligation to negotiate in good faith.

Big Lagoon Rancheria wanted to build and operate a class III gaming hotel and casino on tribal trust land. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”) was enacted by Congress to regulate gaming on Indian lands, which is based on the class of gaming involved. Class III gaming includes high-stake games, normally associated with Nevada-style gaming. The IGRA set out specific procedures for Indian tribes seeking to operate a class III gaming casino, which is only allowed on Indian lands if “conducted in conformance with a Tribal-State compact entered into by the Indian tribe and the State.” The gaming compact begins at the request of an Indian tribe having jurisdiction over the Indian land, and the request prompts the State’s obligation to negotiate in good faith. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (“BIA”) holds the authority to keep the land in trusts for Indian tribes under the Indian Reorganization Act (“IRA”). Big Lagoon Rancheria claimed jurisdiction over two parcels of land, one of which contains eleven acres taken in trust for the tribe by the BIA. Big Lagoon Rancheria wanted to use that eleven acres in trust to operate a class III gaming casino and hotel. After negotiations failed, Big Lagoon Rancheria sued the State of California for failure to negotiate in good faith. This district court granted summary judgment to Big Lagoon Rancheria. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held in favor of the tribe, stating that the State had failed to negotiate in good faith, and thus rejected the State’s argument that Big Lagoon Rancheria lacked standing to require that it negotiate in good faith under the IGRA. The panel also held that the State’s argument demonstrated an improper collateral attack on the BIA’s decision to take the parcel of land in trust for the tribe. AFFIRMED.

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