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The California Valley Miwok Tribe v. Jewell

United States District Court, District Circuit

December 13, 2013

SALLY JEWELL, in her official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, et al., Defendants, and, CALIFORNIA VALLEY MIWOK TRIBE Defendant-Intervenor.




This matter comes before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment. Plaintiffs, led by Yakima Dixie, claim to be members of the California Valley Miwok Tribe (the "Tribe"). They challenge the August 31, 2011 final decision of Larry Echo Hawk, the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs ("BIA") of the United States Department of Interior ("DOI"). Dkt. No. 49 ("Pls.' Mot."). Federal Defendants Sally Jewell, Secretary of the DOI, Michael Black, Director of BIA, and Larry Echo Hawk (collectively "the Federal Defendants") oppose Plaintiffs' motion and request that this Court affirm the August 31, 2011 decision. Dkt. No. 56 ("Defs.' Mot."). At the Court's request, Intervenor-Defendant, another group of individuals who claim to be members of the Tribe and who are led by Silvia Burley, filed a brief in support of the Federal Defendants' summary judgment motion. Dkt. No. 83.

For the reasons discussed below, this Court concludes that the Assistant Secretary erred when he assumed that the Tribe's membership is limited to five individuals and further assumed that the Tribe is governed by a duly constituted tribal council, thereby ignoring multiple administrative and court decisions that express concern about the nature of the Tribe's governance. Therefore, the Court will grant Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment in so far as it seeks remand of the August 2011 Decision and deny the Federal Defendants' cross motion for summary judgment.[1]


In 1906, Congress authorized the BIA to purchase land for use by Indians in California who lived outside reservations or who lived on reservations that did not contain land suitable for cultivation. Act of June 21, 1906, 34 Stat. 325. In 1915, an agent working for the Office of Indian Affairs (now the BIA) was tasked with locating a group of Indians known at the time as the "Sheepranch Indians." AR 000001. In reporting back to the Office of Indian Affairs, the agent noted that while the Sheepranch Indians had once been part of "a large band of Indians, " the band had dwindled down to "13 in number... living in and near the old decaying mining town known and designated on the map as Sheepranch.'" Id. [2] In 1916, the BIA acquired approximately 0.93 acres in Calaveras County, California for the benefit of these Indians. AR 000006. The land became known as the "Sheep Ranch Rancheria" and was held in trust for the Indians by the Federal government. AR 001687.

In 1934, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act ("IRA"), which, among other things, required the BIA to hold elections through which the adult Indians of a reservation decided whether to accept or reject the applicability of certain provisions of the IRA to their reservation, including provisions authorizing tribes to organize and adopt a constitution under the IRA. 25 U.S.C. ยงยง 476 and 478. In 1935, the sole resident of the Sheep Ranch Rancheria was Jeff Davis. AR 001687. He voted in favor of the IRA; however, the tribe was never organized pursuant to the IRA at that time. Id.

In 1966, during a period in which the Federal government sought to terminate the Federal trust relationship with various Indian tribes, the BIA reached out to the Sheep Ranch Rancheria in order to distribute the assets of the Rancheria to its members as a prelude to termination of the trust relationship. AR 001687. The BIA discovered that the only home on the Rancheria that remained occupied was that of Mabel Hodge Dixie, presumably the granddaughter of Peter and Annize Hodge, who were identified in the 1915 census of the Sheepranch Indians. Id. According to Mabel, she had lived on the Rancheria for at least thirty years by 1966. AR 000039. The BIA determined that Mabel was the only Indian entitled to receive the assets of the Rancheria, and she voted to accept the distribution plan and was issued a deed to the land. AR 000048-51, XXXXXX-XX. However, the BIA failed to take the steps necessary to complete the termination of Sheep Ranch Rancheria. AR 001573.[3]

Mabel died in 1971. AR 000173. A probate was ordered and the Administrative Law Judge issued an Order of Determination of Heirs on October 1, 1971, reaffirmed by a subsequent Order issued on April 14, 1993. Id. The Order listed the following individuals as possessing a certain undivided interest in the Sheep Ranch Rancheria: Merle Butler (Mabel's common law husband) and Mabel's four sons Richard Dixie, Yakima Dixie, Melvin Dixie, and Tommy Dixie. Id.; AR 000061.

Sometime in 1994, Yakima Dixie, Mabel's son, wrote a letter to the BIA requesting financial assistance to make repairs to his house on the Rancheria.[4] AR 000082. The letter was written on behalf of Yakima by Raymond Fry, who at the time was a Tribal Operations Officer for the Central California Agency of BIA. AR 001083. In the letter, Yakima represented that he is "the only descendant and recognized tribal member of the Sheep Ranch Rancheria." AR 000082. By 1998, only two of Mabel's five heirs to the Rancheria-Yakima and Melvin-were living. AR 000173.

Also sometime during the 1990s, Silvia Burley contacted the BIA for information related to her Indian heritage. AR 001688. It appears that at one time Burley had been a member of the Jackson Rancheria, a community near the Sheep Ranch Rancheria, but by 1998 was no longer a member. AR 000250, 001096. The reason for her disenrollment is not clear from the record. The BIA determined that Burley might be remotely related to Jeff Davis, the sole eligible voter for the Sheep Ranch Rancheria IRA vote in 1935. AR 001688, n. 7. By 1998, -at the BIA's suggestion-Burley had contacted Yakima. Id.

On August 5, 1998, Burley wrote for Yakima's signature, a statement purporting to enroll herself, her two children, Rashel Roznor and Anjelica Paulk, and her granddaughter, Tristian Wallace, into the Tribe. AR 000110. The statement lists Yakima as "spokesperson/Chairman of the Sheep Rancheria" but does not mention Melvin. Id. Nor does it describe what criteria, if any, Yakima used to determine whether Burley and her daughters/granddaughter were eligible for tribal membership. Id.

On September 24, 1998, Mr. Fry and Brian Golding, Sr., (also a Tribal Operations Specialist with the BIA), met with Yakima and Silvia. The BIA claims that the purpose of the meeting was to "discuss the process of formally organizing the Tribe." AR 000172. However, Yakima claims that he met with Mr. Fry and Mr. Golding, in order to get BIA to help Burley and her family. AR 000120-121; see also AR 000250 (stating that Yakima's intent in enrolling the Burley family in the Tribe was only to grant such membership rights necessary to qualify the family for services offered by BIA to members of federally recognized tribes).

The BIA followed up the meeting with a letter in which it "summarized" the issues discussed during the September 24 meeting. AR 000172-176. Relevant to this lawsuit, BIA made the following statements: (1) the Tribe is "held to the Order of the [probate] Administrative Law Judge" for "purposes of determining the initial membership of the Tribe"; (2) Yakima and Melvin, as the only remaining heirs, "are those persons possessing the right to initially organize the Tribe"; (3) because Yakima "accepted Silvia Burley, Rashel Raznor, Anjelica Paulk, and Tristian Wallace as enrolled members of the Tribe, " these individuals, "provided that they are at least eighteen years of age, " also "possess the right to participate in the initial organization of the Tribe"; (4) Yakima and Burley were to "consider what enrollment criteria should be applied to further prospective members"; and (5) the BIA recommended, "given the size of the Tribe, " that the Tribe "operate as a General Council, which could elect or appoint a chairperson and conduct business."[5] AR 001689.

To that end, the BIA drafted Resolution #GC-98-01, which Yakima and Burley executed on November 5, 1998 (hereinafter, the "November 1998 Resolution").[6] AR 000177-179. The November 1998 Resolution states that the "membership of the Tribe currently consists of at least the following individuals: Dixie, Burley, Rashel, Anjelica, and Tristian; this membership may change in the future consistent with the Tribe's ratified constitution and any duly enacted Tribal membership statutes." Id. It further states that Yakima, Burley, and Rashel, "as a majority of the adult members of the Tribe, hereby establish a General Council to serve as the governing body of the Tribe." Id.

The next correspondence that the BIA received from the Tribe is a letter submitted by Burley dated April 20, 1999. AR 001573. The letter is titled "Formal notice of resignation" and states that Yakima "resign[ed] as Chairperson of the Sheep Ranch Tribe." AR 000180. Yakima claims that Burley forged his signature on the April 20, 1999 letter. AR 001573. The very next day, on April 21, the BIA received a letter from Yakima in which he states "I cannot and will not resign as chairman of the Sheep Ranch Indian Rancheria." AR 000182. However, the letter further states that Yakima "give[s] [Burley] the right to act as a delegate to represent the Sheepranch Indian Rancheria." Id.

On July 20, 1999, BIA and the Tribe entered into a "self-determination contract" that provided annual funding for the development and organization of the Tribe for the benefit of future tribal members, and on September 30, 1999, the Tribe became a "contracting Tribe" pursuant to the Indian Self Determination Act, PL 93-638. AR 001453. The parties refer to this annually renewing contract as the Tribe's "P.L. 638 Contract." Id.

Shortly thereafter, the leadership dispute that had been brewing between Yakima and Burley came to a head. Over the course of the next couple of years, both Yakima and Burley laid claim to the role of "Chairperson" of the Tribe and attempted to organize the Tribe pursuant to the IRA by submitting multiple competing constitutions that purportedly had been adopted by the tribal membership. For instance, on May 14, 1999, the BIA received a letter that stated that the Tribe's General Council had held an election on May 8, 1999, and as a result of that election, Burley was now the Chairperson of the Tribe, Yakima, the Vice-Chairperson, and Rashel, the Secretary/Treasurer. AR 000236. However, on October 10, 1999, BIA received a letter from Yakima in which he raised concern about the leadership dispute within the Tribe and questioned whether he can "exclude" Burley and her family members from the Tribe. AR 000205. Thereafter, on December 26, 1999, Yakima provided the BIA with a tribal constitution, purportedly adopted by the Tribe on December 11, 1999. AR 001690, 000231. He again alleged "fraud or misconduct relative to the change in Tribal leadership during April and May 1999" and maintained that he is the rightful Chairperson of the Tribe. Id.

On February 4, 2000, the BIA wrote a letter to Yakima in response to the concerns he raised regarding the leadership dispute within the Tribe. AR 000234-239. In the letter, the BIA states the following: (1) a General Council was elected by a "majority of the adult members of the Tribe" on November 5, 1998;[7] (2) Burley is the "person presently recognized by the Agency as the Chairperson of the Tribe"; (3) "the appointment of Tribal leadership and the conduct of Tribal elections are internal matters" to be resolved by the Tribe; and (4) in the event of an internal leadership dispute, it is the Agency's policy "to continue to ...

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