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Me-Wuk Indian Community of the Wilton Rancheria v. Kempthorne

October 24, 2007

ME-WUK INDIAN COMMUNITY OF THE WILTON RANCHERIA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DIRK A. KEMPTHORNE, SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Now before the Court comes putative intervenor Wilton Miwok Rancheria's ("Wilton Miwok") motion [11] to intervene under FED. R. CIV. P. 24. Plaintiff, Me-Wuk Indian Community of the Wilton Rancheria ("Me-Wuk Indian Community"), opposes this motion and alternatively asks this Court to issue an order limiting the scope of claims to be set forth in Wilton Miwok's complaint-in-intervention. Upon consideration of the parties' filings, the applicable law, and the facts of this case, the Court finds that putative intervenor Wilton Miwok's motion to intervene will be GRANTED.

Upon deciding to grant Wilton Miwok's motion to intervene, this Court next considers defendant Secretary of the Interior, Dirk A. Kempthorne's ("Secretary") motion [5] to transfer venue to the Eastern District of California pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). After full consideration of the party's filings-including Wilton Miwok's proposed motion to transfer to the Northern District of California-and the facts and applicable law, this Court finds that the Secretary's motion to transfer venue to the Eastern District of California will be DENIED and that the Court will order transfer to the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

I. BACKGROUND

On February 28, 2007, plaintiff Me-Wuk Indian Community filed suit in this Court seeking the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs' ("BIA") recognition as a federally recognized Indian tribe. Plaintiff seeks the protection, services, and benefits of a federally recognized tribe and asks this Court to direct the Secretary of the Interior to take into trust and define as "Indian country" and "restored lands" the designated area that lies within a 25-mile radius of the former site of the Wilton Rancheria. (Compl. ¶ 1.) This land, located in the Eastern District of California, was occupied by the federally recognized Wilton band of MeWuk Indians (the "Tribe") until 1964 when the Tribe became one of 41 California Indian tribes who had their federal recognition terminated as a result of the California Rancheria Act of 1958, Pub. L. No. 85-671, 72 Stat. 619 amended by Act of Aug. 1, 1964, P.L. 88-419, 78 Stat. 390. (BIA letter, Sept. 17, 2004, Ex. B to Franklin Decl.) Many of these tribes and their respective lands have been the subject of litigation seeking restoration of their federal status for almost three decades beginning with a 1979 class action-Hardwick v. United States-that to this day remains a pending matter in the Northern District of California. (Order certifying Hardwick class, Ex. B to Proposed Complaint-in-Intervention.) The Tribe was excluded from a group of Hardwick class members that received relief in a stipulated judgment in 1983. Wilton Miwok asserts that this exclusion was improper and its current leadership has been working to restore federally recognized status since at least as early as 1999. (BIA letter, Aug. 24, 2004, Ex. B to Franklin Decl.) Plaintiff Me-Wuk Indian Community bases its claim for restoration on alleged violations by the Department of the Interior of the Administrative Procedure Act. 5 U.S.C. § 500 et seq.

Earlier this year, putative intervenor in this case, Wilton Miwok, filed a complaint as plaintiff in the Northern District of California seeking restoration of the tribe's federal recognition. (See Compl., Wilton Miwok Rancheria v. Kempthorne, Case No. C07-02681 (N.D. Cal. filed May 21, 2007) (the "California Suit")).

On May 29, 2007, this Court received Wilton Miwok's motion to intervene in this action. Wilton Miwok asserts that plaintiff is not authorized by the tribal council to bring suit on behalf of the Tribe and that the BIA recognizes Wilton Miwok as the only entity that represents members of the Tribe. In support of this assertion, Wilton Miwok points to a letter from the BIA recognizing Ms. Mary Turango and Ms. Anita Franklin as representatives of the Tribe in its efforts to restore federal recognition. (BIA Letter, August 24, 2004, Ex. B to Franklin Decl.) Both women serve as co-chairpersons of Wilton Miwok. Me-Wuk Indian Community responds that it-not Wilton Miwok-is the body that enjoys the overwhelming support of the Tribe's membership as the entity authorized to pursue their legal rights. (Williams Decl.; Sangmaster Decl.; Ltr. to Clay Gregory)

On April 23, 2007, the Secretary filed a motion to transfer venue to the Eastern District of California under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). In Wilton Miwok's motion to intervene, it indicated that if the Court were to grant intervention, Wilton Miwok would seek transfer of this action to the Northern District of California and would oppose transfer to the Eastern District of California. Wilton Miwok included a proposed motion to transfer venue as an exhibit to its motion to intervene.Subsequent to receiving knowledge of Wilton Miwok's motion to intervene and its desire to transfer this matter to the Northern District of California, the Secretary filed a notice [17] indicating that he would now support transfer of this matter to the Northern District of California. Defendant stated that "[t]ransfer of this matter to the Northern District of California will permit the intertwined claims . . . to be decided in a venue where the local interest is compelling." (Notice at 2) Because the Secretary filed this notice, the Court will deny its motion to transfer to the Eastern District of California and will consider the issue of proposed transfer to the Northern District of California that both the Secretary and Wilton Miwok now advocate.

Wilton Miwok asserts that the underlying suit could have originally been brought in the Northern District of California and that that district would be significantly more convenient than the District of Columbia. As a basis for this claim, Wilton Miwok notes that both Hardwick and the substantially similar California Suit are related actions currently pending in the Northern District of California. Second, Wilton Miwok cites the Northern District of California's experience in restoration cases that involve the California Rancheria Act.(See Proposed Mot. to Transfer at 8--9)

Plaintiff Me-Wuk Indian Community opposes transfer of this case from the District of Columbia and argues that such transfer would be inappropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1404. Plaintiff argues that it is entitled to deference in its choice of forum and that the current venue is in the interest of justice. In support of this claim, plaintiff states that the cause of action centers upon action taken by the Secretary in Washington, D.C. and that redress of its injury can only be carried out by the Secretary and whomever he may choose to delegate his duties. (Opp. to Transfer at 4--5). Following the logic of an action focused on Washington, D.C.--based decision-making, Me-Wuk Indian Community argues that transfer of the case would neither further the interest of convenience for the parties nor for potential witnesses.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Intervention

1. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24 sets forth the requirements for intervention as of right and permissive intervention. FED. R. CIV. P. 24. Rule 24(a) provides for intervention as of right, stating that:

[u]pon timely application anyone shall be permitted to intervene in an action . . . when the applicant claims an interest relating to the property or transaction which is the subject of the action and the applicant is so situated that the disposition of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the applicant's ability to protect that ...


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