The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. United States District Judge
Plaintiff Butte County, California ("County") brings this action pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act, 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. ("APA"), against the following defendants in their capacities as officials of the National Indian Gaming Commission ("NIGC") or of the Department of the Interior ("Department"): Phillip N. Hogen, NIGC Chairman ("Chairman"); Norman H. DesRosiers, NIGC Commissioner ("Commissioner"); Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior ("Secretary"); George Skibine, Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs ("Assistant Secretary"); and the Department (together, "Defendants"). This action challenges two decisions-one of the NIGC and another of the Department; both concern defendant-intervenor Mechoopda Indian Tribe of Chico Rancheria ("Tribe").*fn1 First, the County challenges a 2007 NIGC decision, which, pursuant to the Indian Gaming Restoration Act, 25 U.S.C. §§ 2701 et seq. ("IGRA"), approved a gaming ordinance the Tribe had enacted. Second, the County challenges a 2008 Department decision to take a parcel of land in the County into trust on behalf of the Tribe ("Chico Parcel") pursuant to the Indian Reorganization Act, 25 U.S.C. §§ 465 et seq. ("IRA"). In essence, these challenges raise the same question of law: whether the Chico Parcel qualifies as a "restoration of lands" under the IGRA thereby making it eligible for gaming under an IGRA exception to its general prohibition against gaming on Indian lands taken into trust after October 17, 1988.
Before the court are Defendants' motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative for summary judgment [##41, 46], the Tribe's motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative for summary judgment [##42, 47], and the County's cross-motion for summary judgment [#55]. Upon consideration of the motions, the oppositions thereto, and the record of this case, the court concludes that the motions for summary judgment filed by the Tribe and Defendants must be granted, and the motion for summary judgment filed by the County must be denied.
The United States recognized a tribe of Indians known as the Mechoopda as early as 1851. (NIGC AR 002809-13.) In the mid-nineteenth century, the California gold rush and policies related thereto displaced the Tribe, at least in part, from its ancestral lands in and around the County. (NIGC AR 000467, 002718.) In response to the displacement of the Tribe and other Indian tribes, the United States created "rancherias," which it held in trust for the Indians who settled on them. One such rancheria was the Chico Rancheria, which was established in 1939 and located within a family-owned ranch ("Bidwell Ranch"). (NIGC AR 000467.) The Tribe alleges to have resided on the Chico Rancheria from 1939 until the present. (NIGC AR 000467- 68.) Although the County admits the Tribe resided on the Chico Rancheria, it contends that it resided there not as a tribe but as a disparate group of Indians employed by the Ranch. Regardless of whether the Tribe or the County is correct, the facts are that, in 1967, the United States terminated the Chico Rancheria along with federal recognition of the Tribe. (NIGC AR 002721.)
In 1986, the Tribe filed suit challenging the termination of its federally-recognized status. (NIGC AR 000467.) The lawsuit ended upon entry of a stipulated judgment between the Tribe, the United States, and the City of Chico (which had since subsumed the Chico Rancheria) ("Scotts Stipulation"). (NIGC AR 002731-42.) Under the Scotts Stipulation, the Tribe regained its status as a federally-recognized sovereign tribe. The Scotts Stipulation did not, however, restore the Chico Rancheria because the lands that comprised the former Chico Rancheria were now part of the City of Chico and the California State University at Chico. Accordingly, the parties to the Scotts Stipulation agreed that the former Chico Rancheria would not be restored, but that the United States would consider taking other lands into trust for the benefit of the Tribe. (NIGC AR 000468.)
Thereafter, the Tribe took various actions to identify and secure land, which could then be held in trust by the United States for the benefit of the Tribe. (NIGC AR 002720, 002034-35.) The effort to procure land for the Tribe is governed by the IRA, which provides in relevant part:
The Secretary of the Interior is authorized, in his discretion, to acquire, through purchase, relinquishment, gift, exchange, or assignment, any interest in lands, water rights, or surface rights to lands, within or without existing reservations, including trust or otherwise restricted allotments, whether the allottee be living or deceased, for the purpose of providing land for Indians.
Title to any lands or rights acquired pursuant to this Act or the Act of July 28, 1955 (69 Stat. 392), as amended (25 U.S.C. 608 et seq.) shall be taken in the name of the United States in trust for the Indian tribe or individual Indian for which the land is acquired, and such lands or rights shall be exempt from State and local taxation.
25 U.S.C. § 465. Once the United States could acquire land in trust for the Tribe, the Tribe planned to develop gaming operations on the land as a means of generating tribal government revenue.*fn2 (NIGC AR 002873-75.) Because the United States would be taking such land into trust for the benefit of the Tribe after October 17, 1988, whether such gaming would be permitted on the land is governed by the Restoration of Lands Exception of the IGRA, which provides in relevant part:
(a) Prohibition on lands acquired in trust by Secretary Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, gaming regulated by this chapter shall not be conducted on lands acquired by the Secretary in trust for the benefit of an Indian tribe after October 17, 1988 . . .