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Wyandotte Nation v. Kenneth L. Salazar

November 22, 2011

WYANDOTTE NATION,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
KENNETH L. SALAZAR,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Beryl A. Howell

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Before the Court is a motion filed by defendant Kenneth Salazar, the Secretary for the U.S. Department of Interior, to transfer venue of this case to the District of Kansas. ECF No. 6. Plaintiff Wyandotte Nation, a federally-recognized Indian Tribe based in Oklahoma, initiated the instant litigation against the defendant, alleging that he has failed in a timely manner to accept a tract of land located in Kansas into trust for the Wyandotte Nation's benefit "as specifically required by" the Land Claim Settlement Act, Public Law 98-602, 98 Stat. 3149 (1984). The defendant contends that this case should be transferred to the District of Kansas, where the property is located, because it involves a matter of significant local interest and the District of Columbia has no particular connection to this dispute. For the reasons stated below, the Court agrees. Accordingly, the defendant's motion to transfer this case to the District of Kansas is granted.

I.BACKGROUND

On July 26, 2011, plaintiff Wyandotte Nation, a federally-recognized Indian Tribe headquartered in Wyandotte, Oklahoma, filed this action challenging the Department of Interior's alleged failure to accept title to a tract of land known as the "Park City Land" into a trust created for the Nation's benefit as required by the Land Claim Settlement Act, Public Law 98-602, 98 Stat. 3149 (1984). Compl., ECF No. 1.

This Act provides a mechanism to satisfy certain judgments entered by the Indian Claims Commission in favor of the plaintiff and against the United States. Specifically, the Act provides "for the use and distribution of certain funds awarded the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma," and, among other things, mandated that "[a] sum of $100,000 . . . shall be used for the purchase of real property which shall be held in trust by the Secretary [of the Interior] for the benefit of [the] Tribe" ("Land Purchase Funds"). Public Law 98-602, §§ 101(b); 105(b)(1).

The plaintiff alleges that, on November 25, 1992, it purchased a tract of land in Park City, Kansas ("Park City Land") with Land Purchase Funds. Compl. ¶ 16. The plaintiff then submitted, on January 21, 1993, an application requesting that the defendant take the Park City Land into trust pursuant to the Land Claim Settlement Act. Id. ¶ 17. This request was transmitted from a Department of Interior ("DOI") field office to the Washington, D.C. office for further review on February 19, 1993. Id. ¶ 18. No action, however, was taken by the defendant.

In 1995, the plaintiff states that it purchased a second tract of land with Land Purchase Funds in Kansas City, Kansas (the "Shriner Tract") and requested the defendant to accept that tract of land into trust. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. In 1996, the defendant accepted the Shriner Tract of land into trust, and approved gaming activities on that property under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 25 U.S.C. § 2701, et seq. Id. ¶ 24; see also Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri v. Norton,240 F.3d 1250, 1257 (10th Cir. 2001). In response, the state of Kansas and other Indian tribes filed a lawsuit challenging the defendant's decision. Compl. ¶ 23; see also Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri. v. Babbitt,92 F. Supp. 2d 1124 (D.Kan. 2000), aff'd in part, rev'd in part and remanded sub nom Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri v. Norton,240 F.3d 1250 (10th Cir. 2001). After approximately five years of litigation, the Tenth Circuit ultimately concluded that the DOI acted arbitrarily in determining whether only Land Purchase Funds were used to purchase the Shriner Tract and also erred in approving gaming activities on the land. Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri,240 F.3d at 1253. The Court then remanded to the DOI for reconsideration of the plaintiff's original request regarding the Shriner Tract. Id. at 1263-64.

Following remand, in 2002, the DOI determined that the Shiner Tract was purchased with Land Purchase Funds and affirmed its decision to accept the property into trust. See Wyandotte Nation v. Sebelius, 337 F. Supp. 2d 1253, 1261 (D. Kan. 2004), vacated in part, 443 F.3d 1247 (10th Cir. 2006). The plaintiff proceeded to operate gaming facilities on the site. See id. From 2002 to 2010, the plaintiff, the DOI, the state of Kansas, and other Indian tribes have engaged in extensive litigation surrounding the Shriner Tract and the plaintiff's ability to open a gaming facility on that land. See Mem. Supp. Def.'s Mot. Transfer Venue ("Def.'s Mem."), ECF No. 6, at 2-4. Indeed, the defendant's decision to accept the Shriner Tract into trust, and the plaintiff's decision to operate a gaming facility on the site spawned multiple lawsuits in the District of Kansas, two of which were originally filed in the District of Columbia and were transferred by this Court to Kansas because the controversy at the center of those cases "ha[d] a history that involve[d] litigation conducted within the District of Kansas and the Tenth Circuit." Wyandotte Nation v. Nat'l Indian Gaming Comm'n, No. 04-cv-513 (D.D.C. Apr. 2, 2004) (order transferring venue to the District of Kansas); see also Wyandotte Nation v. Nat'l Indian Gaming Comm'n, No. 04-cv-1727 (D.D.C. May 2, 2005) (memorandum opinion granting motion to transfer venue); see generally Iowa Tribe of Kansas & Nebraska v. Salazar, 607 F.3d 1225 (10th Cir. 2010); Governor of Kansas v. Kempthorne, 516 F.3d 833 (10th Cir. 2008); Wyandotte Nation v. Sebelius, 337 F. Supp. 2d 1253 (D. Kan. 2004), vacated in part, 443 F.3d 1247 (10th Cir. 2006); Governor of Kansas v. Norton, 430 F. Supp. 2d 1204 (D. Kan. 2006); Wyandotte Nation v. Nat'l Indian Gaming Comm'n, 437 F. Supp. 2d 1193 (D. Kan. 2000).

During the pendency of litigation involving the Shriner Tract, on April 13, 2006, the plaintiff resubmitted its application to have the Park City Land purchased in 1992 taken into trust pursuant to the Land Claim Settlement Act. Compl. ¶ 27; Def.'s Mem., ECF No. 6, at 4. Like the Shriner Tract, the plaintiff intends to operate a gaming facility on the Park City Land. See Def.'s Mot. Transfer, ECF No. 6, Ex. C, Wyandotte Resolution No. 06-04-13 (Apr. 13, 2006). The defendant, however, has not acted on the plaintiff's revived application. Compl. ¶¶ 31-32; Def.'s Mem., ECF No. 6, at 4. The plaintiff alleges that "despite the Nation's repeated requests and its undeniable need for prompt action, the Secretary has refused to act on the Park City Land trust acquisition, to provide any reasonable explanation for his delay, or even to specify a date by which he will act." Compl. ¶ 31. Consequently, the plaintiff filed this lawsuit on July 26, 2011, seeking a writ of mandamus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1361 to compel the defendant to accept trust title to the Park City Land (Count I); a finding that the defendant violated the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 701, et seq. (Count II); and a determination that the defendant breached his trust obligations to the plaintiff (Count III). Compl. ¶¶ 33-50.

On September 9, 2011, prior to filing an Answer, the defendant moved to transfer this case, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), to the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, where the Park City Land is located.*fn1 ECF No. 6. Shortly thereafter, on September 20, 2011, the state of Kansas filed a motion to intervene in this case. ECF No. 7. Both of these motions are currently pending before the Court.

As explained below, the Court agrees with the defendant that transfer to the District of Kansas is warranted given that the District of Columbia has no significant connection to this case, and this matter involves an issue that will impact considerably the local Kansas community. Given this conclusion, the Court will not address the State of Kansas' motion to intervene, leaving determination of Kansas' request to the district court in the District of Kansas.

II.LEGAL STANDARD

Under the federal venue transfer statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1404, a district court may transfer a case to another district "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice."

28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The Court may only transfer a case to another district "where it might have been brought." Id. This statute "vests discretion in the District Court to adjudicate motions for transfer on an 'individualized, case-by-case consideration of convenience and fairness.'" Otter v. Salazar, 718 F. Supp. 2d 62, 63-64 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting Stewart Org., Inc. v. Ricoh Corp., 487 U.S. 22, 29 (1988)). Courts evaluate both public and private interest factors in determining whether to grant a transfer of venue. Bederson v. United States, 756 F. Supp. 2d 38, 46 (D.D.C. 2010). "The public interest factors . . . include: (1) the local interest in making local decisions regarding local controversies; (2) the relative congestion of the transferee and transferor courts; and (3) the potential transferee court's familiarity with the governing law." Id. "The private interest factors that are considered include: (1) the plaintiff's choice of forum; (2) the defendant's choice of forum; (3) where the claim arose; (4) the convenience of the parties; (5) the convenience of the witnesses; and (6) the ease of access to the sources of proof." ...


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