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Butte County, California v. Chaudhuri

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 15, 2016

BUTTE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, Plaintiff,
v.
JONODER OSCEOLA CHAUDHURI, Chairman, National Indian Gaming Commission; E. SEQUOYAH SIMERMEYER, Commissioner, National Indian Gaming Commission; DIRK A. KEMPTHORNE, Secretary, United States Department of the Interior; LAWRENCE S. ROBERTS, Acting Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs, United States Department of the Interior; and UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, Defendants, [1] MECHOOPDA INDIAN TRIBE OF CHICO RANCHERIA, CALIFORNIA, Intervenor-Defendant

         APPEARANCES

          DICKINSON WRIGHT PLLC Attorneys for Plaintiff

          THE COUNTY COUNSEL'S OFFICE Attorneys for Plaintiff

          U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE Environment and Natural Resources Division Attorneys for Defendants .

          ANDERSON INDIAN LAW Attorneys for Intervenor-Defendant

         OF COUNSEL

          DENNIS J. WHITTLESEY, ESQ.

          BRUCE S. ALPERT, ESQ.

          LAURA L. MAUL, ESQ.

          MICHAEL J. ANDERSON, ESQ.

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

          FREDERICK J. SCULLIN, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Pending before the Court are Plaintiff Butte County's ("Plaintiff County") motion for summary judgment, see Dkt. No. 115; Defendants' (collectively the "United States" or the "Department") cross-motion for summary judgment, see Dkt. No. 117; and Intervenor Defendant's (the "Tribe") cross-motion for summary judgment, see Dkt. No. 119.

         The Court heard oral argument in support of and in opposition to these motions on May 10, 2016, and reserved decision at that time. The following constitutes the Court's written disposition of these motions.

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In 1996, the Tribe acquired a parcel of land as a potential site for a revenue-generating gaming operation. After the Department advised the Tribe that the parcel was not eligible for gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act ("IGRA"), the Tribe acquired a different parcel of land (the "Chico Parcel") in 2001. The Chico Parcel, approximately 625 acres, is located near the City of Chico, in Butte County, California.

         In 2002, the Tribe requested that the National Indian Gaming Commission ("NIGC") provide an opinion regarding whether the Chico Parcel was eligible for gaming. The NIGC issued an opinion in 2003 that the Chico Parcel would constitute "restored lands" under the IGRA, and the Department concurred with the NIGC's opinion.

         In 2004, the Tribe requested that the Department take the approximately 625-acre Chico Parcel into trust for gaming purposes. In 2006, Plaintiff County objected to the Tribe's application and provided the Department with the report of Dr. Stephen Dow Beckham ("2006 Beckham Report"). The 2006 Beckham Report was included as part of the Department's administrative record. In 2008, the Secretary of the Department approved the Tribe's trust application ("2008 Decision"). Plaintiff County challenged the approval in this Court, and the Court (Kennedy, J.) upheld the Secretary's decision. See Butte Cnty. v. Hogen, 609 F.Supp.2d 20 (D.D.C. 2009). Plaintiff County appealed.

         On July 13, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated the 2008 Decision and remanded the case on the ground that "[t]here [was] no indication that the Interior Department . . . actually considered the [2006 Beckham Report]." Butte Cnty. v. Hogen, 613 F.3d 190, 194 (D.C. Cir. 2010).

         After remand, the Court (Kennedy, J.) requested the parties' positions regarding compliance with the Court of Appeals' remand order. See Dkt. No. 70. After reviewing the parties' submissions, the Court issued an Order on December 22, 2010, in which the Court "remanded [this matter] to the Secretary of the Interior to reconsider his decision to acquire the Chico Parcel into trust for gaming purposes. The Secretary shall include and consider the [2006] 'Beckham Report' as part of the administrative record on remand." See Dkt. No. 71.

         On remand, the Department concluded that, in light of the passage of time and intervening developments in the law, the existing administrative record would not serve as an adequate basis for a new decision. See New Administrative Record ("AR NEW") at 5386. In letters dated April 12, 2011, former Deputy Solicitor - Indian Affairs Patrice Kunesh explained the specific procedural process that the Department would use on remand. See Id. at 4044 (to Plaintiff County); 4045-46 (to the Tribe) (collectively "April 12 letter"). In the April 12 letter, Ms. Kunesh explained that Plaintiff County would have thirty days to submit any information it wished the Secretary to consider during the remand, and the Tribe would then have thirty days to respond to Plaintiff County's submissions. See Id. The April 12 letter also requested both parties' views on whether recently promulgated regulations should apply to the remand. See Id. (referring the parties to 25 C.F.R. Part 292).

         The Tribe objected to the proposed remand process. By letter dated April 21, 2011, the Tribe's Chairman, Dennis Ramirez, requested that the Department base its new decision entirely on the existing administrative record. See Id. at 4049-52. This request arose out of the Tribe's concern with the efficiency of the process as well as the fact that Plaintiff County would be afforded an opportunity to file additional submissions with the ...


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