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Quantum v. United States Department of Interior

March 26, 2012


: Re Document No.: 13, 14



This case comes before the court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. The plaintiff, Quantum Entertainment Limited ("QEL"), commenced this action against the Bureau of Indian Affairs ("BIA"), a department within the United States Department of the Interior ("DOI"). According to the plaintiff, the DOI's Interior Board of Indian Appeals ("the Board") issued an administrative decision that violated the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701, et seq. Upon review of that decision, this court previously held that the Board had failed to articulate a reasoned basis for certain findings central to its holding and remanded the case to the Board for further explanation. The Board thereafter issued a revised opinion in 2010, and the parties have now filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Because the Board's 2010 opinion was not arbitrary, capricious or contrary to law, the court grants the defendant's motion for summary judgment and denies the plaintiff's motion.


A. Statutory Framework

In 1872, Congress passed legislation that governed agreements related to Native American lands, codified at 25 U.S.C. § 81. From 1871 until 2000, this legislation, referred to herein as "Old Section 81," remained substantially unchanged and read as follows:

No agreement shall be made by any person with any tribe of [Native Americans] . . . for the payment or delivery of any money or other thing of value . . . in consideration of services for said [Native Americans] relative to their lands . . . unless such contract or agreement be executed and approved [by the Secretary of the DOI ("Secretary")] . . . . All contracts or agreements made in violation of this section shall be null and void, and all money or other thing of value paid to any person by any [Native American], tribe, or any one else, for or on his or their behalf, on account of such services, in excess of the amount approved by the . . . Secretary for such services, may be recovered by suit in the name of the United States.

25 U.S.C. § 81 (1994). Congress passed Old Section 81 out of concern that "claims agents and attorneys working on contingency fees routinely swindl[ed Native Americans] out of their land, accepting it as payment for prosecuting dubious claims against the federal government." United States v. Turn Key Gaming, Inc., 260 F.3d 971, 976-77 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing Cong. Globe, 41st Cong., 3d Sess. 1483, 1483-87 (daily ed. Feb. 22, 1871)); see also id. at 976 n.6, 977 n.7.

In 2000, Congress amended Old Section 81 as part of the Native American Tribal Economic Development and Contracts Encouragement Act of 2000. 25 U.S.C. §§ 71, 81, 476. This "amendment" was intended to replace Old Section 81, as the changes to the text were quite substantial. S. REP. NO. 106-150, at 1, 1999 WL 965424 (1999). The relevant text of 25 U.S.C. § 81, as amended ("New Section 81"), states that "[n]o agreement or contract with [a Native American] tribe that encumbers [Native American]

lands for a period of 7 or more years shall be valid unless that agreement or contract bears the approval of the Secretary of the Interior or a designee of the Secretary ['DOI approval']." 25 U.S.C. § 81(b) (2000). In other words, whereas Old Section 81 required DOI approval of any agreement between Native Americans and others regarding Native American land, New Section 81 only requires DOI approval if an agreement with a Native American tribe would hinder the use of its land for a period of 7 years or more. See id.

The legislative history surrounding the enactment of New Section 81 illustrates that Congress was concerned that "many provisions of [Old Section 81 had] come to be antiquated and unnecessary," H.R. REP. NO. 106-501, at 2 (2000), as reprinted in 2000 U.S.C.C.A.N. 69, and that their interpretation was unpredictable, see S. REP. NO. 106-

150, at 5, 1999 WL 965424 (1999). Congress acknowledged that "[Native American] tribes, their corporate partners, courts, and the [BIA] have struggled for decades with how to apply [Old] Section 81 in an era that emphasizes tribal self-determination, autonomy, and reservation economic development." Id. at 2. To address these concerns, Congress passed New Section 81 and thereby narrowed the scope of contracts that require DOI approval. Id. at 9.

Congress did not comment on whether New Section 81 applied to contracts formed before its enactment, however. See generally id. When Congress does not expressly prescribe a statute's retroactive reach, courts must consider whether such retroactive application would have an impermissible retroactive effect. Landgraf v. USI Film Prods., 511 U.S. 244, 278 (1994). A new statute has an impermissible retroactive effect if, compared to the old statute, its retroactive application would impair a party's rights or increase his liabilities for past conduct, or if it would impose new duties on a ...

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