Indian Law Resources Information

ROBERTA BUGENIG, No. C-98-3409 CW
   
Plaintiff, ORDER GRANTING
  DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO
V. DISMISS AND DENYING
  PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO
HOOPA VALLEY TRIBE; THE HOOPA STRIKE
VALLEY TRIBAL COUNCIL; THE TRIBAL
COURT OF THE HOOPA VALLEY
RESERVATION; HONORABLE BYRON
NELSON, JR., Judge of the Hoopa
Valley Tribal Court; and MERV
GEORGE, Chairman of the Hoopa
Valley Tribal Council,

Defendants.


Plaintiff Roberta Bugenig brings an action under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 to determine whether Defendants have exceed ed the limits of their jurisdiction. Defendant Hoopa Valley Tribe moves to dis miss this action on the ground that the Northwest Regional Tribal Supreme Court (Tribal Supreme Court) correctly found that it had jurisdiction to decide Plaintiff's challenge to the Hoopa Valley Tribe's authority to regulate logging on her land which is located within the Hoopa Valley Reservation. Plaintiff opposes the motion and moves to strike Defendant's proposed undisputed facts. The matter was heard on January 29, 1999. Having considered all of the papers filed by the parties and oral argument on the motion, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion to dismiss and DENIES Plaintiff's motion to strike.

BACKGROUND

In 1864, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs set aside the Hoopa Valley and its adjacent mountains, including Bald Hill, as the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation. President Ulysses S. Grant defined the reservation's boundaries by executive order in 1876. In 1891, President Benjamin Harrison extended the reservation's boundaries by executive order. Congress subsequently partitioned the reservation and returned it to its original size by the Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act of 1988, 25 U.S.C. §§ 1300i-1300i-11.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe is a federally recognized Indian Tribe, organized under a constitution and amendments approved by the Secretary of the Interior on November 20, 1933, September 4, 1952, August.9, 1963, and August 18, 1972. The Hoopa. Valley Tribal Council (Tribal Council) is the governing body of the Hoopa Valley Tribe under Article V of the 1972 Hoopa Valley Tribal Constitution (Tribal Constitution).

On January 28, 1995, the Tribal Council adopted a timber harvest plan that established a one-half mile buffer zone around the sacred White Deerskin Dance Site on Bald Hill and the trail leading thereto. The harvest plan prohibited any logging within the buffer zone.

On March 22, 1995, Bugenig, who is not an Indian and not a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, purchased forty acres of land in fee simple title from the Gould Family Partnership. On June 1, 1995, Bugenig recorded her deed in Humboldt County, California. The land, located near where Bugenig's family has lived for nearly 150 years, is within the external boundaries of the reservation and the White Deerskin Dance Site's one-half mile buffer zone.

On June 19, 1995, Bugenig applied to the State of California for a logging permit to harvest trees selectively on less than three acres of her land. On July 24, 1995, after receiving the State permit, Bugenig sent a personal check in the amount of $140 to the Tribal Council for a hauling permit to transport the harvested timber on a tribal road. Two days later, Bugenig began harvesting trees on her land. On July 28, 1995, the Tribal Council returned the personal check and ordered Bugenig to cease and desist her logging activity, citing the one-half mile buffer zone prohibition on logging.

On August 3, 1995, the Hoopa Valley Tribe filed an action against Bugenig in the Hoopa Valley Tribal Court (Tribal Court) for injunctive relief and damages resulting from the timber harvest on her land in contravention of the Hoopa Valley Tribe's one-half mile buffer zone prohibition on logging. Bugenig responded to the complaint by asserting that the Tribal Court lacked jurisdiction over her fee land.. On August 10, 1995, the Tribal Court issued a preliminary injunction barring Bugenig from harvesting timber on her land. On October 17, 1995, the State of California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection revoked Bugenig's logging permit.

On July 11, 1996, the Tribal Court permanently enjoined Bugenig from harvesting timber in the one-half mile buffer zone. On July 19, 1996, Bugenig appealed the Tribal Court's decision to the Tribal Supreme Court. On appeal, Bugenig challenged the Tribal Court's conclusion that the Hoopa Valley Tribe had jurisdiction over Bugenig's activities on her fee land.

On April 23, 1998, the Tribal Supreme Court affirmed the Tribal Court's decision upholding the Tribal Council's authority to regulate logging activities on fee lands located within the reservation's boundaries. On September 4, 1996, Bugenig filed this action seeking declaratory adjudication that the Hoopa Valley Tribe does not have regulatory jurisdiction over her land and that the Tribal Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over it. Bugenig also seeks an injunction enjoining these bodies from asserting such jurisdiction over her land.

LEGAL STANDARD

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim will be denied unless it appears that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts which would entitle her to relief. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); see also Fidelity Fin, Corp. v. Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, 792 F.2d 1432, 1435 (9th Cir. 1986). All material allegations in the complaint will be taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See NL Indus., Inc. v. Kaplan, 792 F.2d 896, 898 (9th Cir. 1986). Dismissal of a complaint can be based on either the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the lack of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dept., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

A tribal court decision regarding tribal jurisdiction will be overturned if its determination of factual questions is clearly erroneous. See FMC v. Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, 905 F.2d 1311, 1313 (9th Cir. 1990). Review of federal legal questions in a tribal court's decision about tribal jurisdiction is de novo. See id.

DISCUSSION

MOTION TO DISMISS

A. Federal Question Jurisdiction

Federal courts have subject matter jurisdiction to determine whether a tribal court has exceeded the limits of its jurisdiction. See Strate v. A-1 Contractors, 520 U.S. 438, , 117 S. Ct. 1404, 1411 (1997) (citing National Farmers Union Ins. Cos. v. Crow Tribe, 471 U.S. 845, 852-53 (1985)). "The question whether an Indian tribe retains the power to compel a non-Indian property owner, to submit to the civil jurisdiction of a tribal court is one that must be answered by reference to federal law and is a 'federal question' under § 1331." National Farmers, 471 U.S. at 852. Plaintiff alleges on the face of her complaint, among other things, that the Tribal Court lacks jurisdiction over her fee land located within the external boundaries of the tribal reservation. Accordingly, this Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

B. Congressional Grant of Tribal Jurisdiction

It is well-established that Congress may expressly authorize tribal jurisdiction over the conduct of non-members within reservation boundaries. See Strate, 117 S. Ct. at 1409;

see also Montana v. United States, 450 U.S. 544, 564 (1981). Absent express congressional authorization, however, the general rule is that Indian tribes lack jurisdiction over the conduct of non-members on non-Indian fee land located within a reservation. See id.

In support of its motion to dismiss, the Hoopa Valley Tribe argues that Congress expressly granted the tribe jurisdiction over all lands within the reservation's boundaries, including Bugenig's land, in the Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act of 1988 (the Act). See 25 U.S.C. §§ 1300i-13OOi-11. Section 1300i-7 of the Act states: "The existing governing documents of the Hoopa Valley Tribe and the governing body established and elected thereunder, as heretofore recognized by the Secretary, are hereby ratified and confirmed." 25 U.S.C. § 1300i-7. The "governing documents" referred to in § 1300i-7 include the Tribal Constitution. Article III of the Tribal Constitution states: "The jurisdiction of the Hoopa Valley Tribe shall extend to all lands within the confines of the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation boundaries as established by Executive Order of June 23, 1876, and to such other lands as may hereafter be acquired by or for the Hoopa Valley Indians." (Pl.'s Ex. 1 at 5). Article IX, section 1(l) of the Tribal Constitution grants the Tribal Council the authority to

safeguard and promote the peace, safety, morals and general welfare of the Hoopa Valley Indians by regulating the conduct of trade and the use and disposition of property upon the reservation, provided that any ordinance directly affecting non-members of the Hoopa Valley Tribe shall be subject to the approval of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs or his authorized representative.

(Pl.'s Ex. 1 at 5).

Resolution of this motion depends upon the meaning of the phrase "ratified and confirmed" in § 1300i-7 of the Act. The Hoopa Valley Tribe asserts that "ratified and confirmed" signifies that Congress expressly granted the tribe all the authority that the Tribal Constitution delegates to the tribe. Therefore, under the Hoopa Valley Tribe's reasoning, because Article III and Article IX of the Tribal Constitution grant the tribe authority over nonmembers' fee lands, the tribe retains the authority to regulate Bugenig's land. Bugenig responds that when Congress enacted the Act, it never intended to grant the Hoopa Valley Tribe jurisdiction over non-members’ fee land. The Tribal Supreme Court concluded that the plain language of the Act supported tribal jurisdiction over non-members' fee land.

The correct construction of the Act is a question of law. Therefore, this Court must review de novo the Tribal Supreme Court's decision that the plain language of the Act supports the Hoopa Valley Tribe's assertion of jurisdiction.

In interpreting an act of Congress, the starting point is the language of the act itself. See Consumer Prod. Safety Comm’n v. GTE Sylvania, Inc.,, 447 U.S. 102, 108 (1980). "Absent a clearly expressed legislative intention to the contrary, that language must ordinarily be regarded as conclusive." Id.. If the language in a statute is unambiguous, judicial inquiry is complete. See Rubin v. United States, 449 U.S. 424, 430 (1981).

As noted above, § 1300i-7 of the Act provides that the Tribal Constitution is "ratified and confirmed." The phrase "ratified and confirmed" is common statutory language that Congress employs when it enacts legislation regulating the authority of Indian tribes. See, e.g . United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, 448 U.S. 371, 383 n.14 (1980) (concluding that a congressional act that "ratified and confirmed" an agreement with the Sioux Nation had the effect of implementing the terms of the agreement and abrogating an earlier treaty). Bugenig does not provide any authority supporting her contention that the phrase "ratified and confirmed" is ambiguous. The Court concludes that the plain meaning of "ratified and confirmed" is to give every clause in the document being ratified the full force and effect of a congressional statute. Nothing in the legislative history.of the Act evinces a clearly expressed legislative intention to the contrary. See Partitioning Certain Reservation Lands Between the Hoopa Valley Tribe and the Yurok Indians, To Clarify the Use of Tribal Timber Proceeds, and for Other Purposes, S. Rep. No. 100-564 (1988). Accordingly, the Court holds that § 1300i-7 of the Act unambiguously grants each clause of the Tribal Constitution the full force and effect of a congressional statute.

1. Tribal Constitution

The Hoopa Valley Tribe argues that Article III of the Tribal Constitution grants the Hoopa Valley Tribe jurisdiction over Bugenig's land. Bugenig responds that neither Congress nor the Hoopa Valley Tribe intended Article III to erase traditional jurisdictional limitations over non-members' fee land.

Article III provides, in pertinent part, that the Hoopa Valley Tribe has jurisdiction over "all lands within the confines of the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation boundaries as established by Executive Order of June 23, 1876." (Pl.'s Ex. 1 at 5). The plain language of Article III explicitly extends tribal jurisdiction to "all lands" within the reservation's boundaries. Nothing in the Tribal Constitution limits the plain language of Article III. It is undisputed that Bugenig's land is within the reservation boundary as it existed in 1876. Therefore, under the plain language of Article III, the Hoopa Valley Tribe has jurisdiction over Bugenig's land.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe also asserts that the Tribal Constitution grants the Tribal Council regulatory authority over Bugenig's land. The Hoopa Valley Tribe contends that Article IX, section l(l) of the Tribal Constitution explicitly grants the Tribal Council authority to regulate non-members' fee land. Article IX, section l(l) provides, in pertinent part, that "'any ordinance directly affecting non-members of the Hoopa Valley Tribe shall be subject to the approval of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs or his authorized representative." (Pl.'s Ex. 1 at 5). In determining the purpose, scope and operative effect of a tribal constitution, federal courts accept the interpretation of tribal courts. See Tom v. Sutton, 533 F.2d 1101, 1106 (9th Cir. 1976). Here, the Tribal Supreme Court has interpreted the Tribal Constitution as granting the Tribal Council regulatory authority over Bugenig's land. The Court, therefore, accepts the Tribal Supreme Court's interpretation of its own constitution.

Accordingly, the Court affirms the Tribal Supreme Court's decision that the Tribal Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Bugenig's land and that the Tribal Council has authority to regulate it.

MOTION TO STRIKE

Plaintiff moves to strike paragraphs 3.5, 3.6, 4.1, 4.2 and 6.6 of Defendant's proposed undisputed facts. Because the Court has not relied upon Defendant's proposed undisputed facts in its determination of Defendant's motion to dismiss, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion as moot.

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, Defendant's motion to dismiss is GRANTED and Plaintiff's motion to strike is DENIED.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

Dated: MAR. 4, 1999 ________________________________________

CLAUDIA WILKEN

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Copies mailed to counsel as noted

on the following page

 

 

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

ROBERTA BUGENIG, No. C-98-3409 CW

Plaintiff, JUDGMENT

v.

HOOPA VALLEY TRIBE; THE HOOPA VALLEY

TRIBAL COUNCIL; THE TRIBAL COURT OF

THE HOOPA VALLEY RESERVATION;

HONORABLE BYRON NELSON, JR., Judge of

the Hoopa Valley Tribal Court; and

MERV GEORGE, Chairman of the Hoopa

Valley Tribal Council,

Defendants.

________________________________________________

For the reasons as set forth in this Court's Order Granting Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and Denying Plaintiff's Motion to Strike filed March 4, 1999,

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED AND ADJUDGED:

That Plaintiff Roberta Bugenig take nothing, that the action be dismissed on the merits, and that Defendants recover of Plaintiff their costs of action.

Dated: MAR. 8, 1999 ______________________________

CLAUDIA WILKEN

United States District Judge