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The Cayuga Nation v. Zinke

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 23, 2018

THE CAYUGA NATION, et al, Plaintiffs,
RYAN ZINKE, et al, Defendants, THE CAYUGA NATION COUNCIL, Defendant-Interver.,



         The Cayuga Nation is a federally recognized Indian Nation. This case deals with decisions by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (“BIA”) and the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs of the Department of the Interior that recognized one faction within the Cayuga Nation-now referring to itself as the “Cayuga Nation Council”-as the governing body of the Cayuga Nation for the purposes of certain contractual relationships between that Nation and the United States federal government. These decisions were apparently the product of an adversarial process between the Cayuga Nation Council and Plaintiffs, a rival faction within the Cayuga Nation who assert that they represent the Nation's rightful government. Plaintiffs have filed this lawsuit seeking to overturn the decisions.

         Presently before the Court is the [17] Motion of the Cayuga Nation Council to Intervene. Putative Intervenor Cayuga Nation Council (“Putative Intervenor”) seeks to intervene in this case to defend the government's decisions recognizing it, as opposed to Plaintiffs, as the governing body of the Cayuga Nation. Current Defendants (effectively, the federal government) do not oppose the Putative Intervenor's Motion, but Plaintiffs do. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [1]the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court finds that the Putative Intervenor has standing and is entitled to intervene in this case as a matter of right under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a). Accordingly, the Court shall GRANT its Motion to Intervene.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Cayuga Nation is a sovereign, federally recognized Indian Nation. Compl., ¶ 1. Plaintiffs allege that the Cayuga Nation has long been governed by a Council of Chiefs selected and overseen by “Clan Mothers, ” who Plaintiffs purport to represent in this litigation. Id. ¶¶ 1-2. Plaintiffs assert that “Cayuga Nation leaders are selected pursuant to the Great Law of Peace, which gives that responsibility of nomination and removal to the women who serve as Clan Mothers, based on input from the members of their clans.” Id. ¶ 31. According to Plaintiffs, this is a “deliberative and consensus-based” process for selecting leaders. Id. ¶ 33. Plaintiffs allege that the United States federal government had previously recognized this form of governance for the Cayuga Nation, and rejected efforts over the years by a faction known as the “Halftown Group” to secure support for the use of a mail-in survey to reconfigure the Cayuga Nation's government. Id. ¶¶ 34-36.

         However, in June 2016 Defendant Bruce W. Maytubby, the Eastern Regional Director of the BIA, revealed to Plaintiffs that the Halftown Group intended to conduct a mail-in survey in order to create a new government for the Cayuga Nation, and that it was Mr. Maytubby's view that the proposed survey “would be a viable way of involving the Cayuga people in a determination of the form and membership of their government.” Id. ¶¶ 37, 40. Plaintiffs contend that this determination was the result of secret meetings between the BIA and the Halftown Group, which Plaintiffs were excluded from. Id. ¶ 38. Plaintiffs objected to the proposed survey, arguing that, among other things, it violated Cayuga law. Id. ¶ 42.

         On December 15, 2016, Defendant Maytubby issued a decision “(1) recognizing the Halftown Group as the government of the Cayuga Nation for purposes of entering into a contract under the ISDEAA [Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act] and declining to recognize Plaintiffs for such purposes; (2) awarding an ISDEAA contract grant to the Halftown Group, on behalf of the Cayuga Nation; and (3) declining to award an ISDEAA contract to [Plaintiffs] on behalf of the Cayuga Nation” (the “Decision”). Id. ¶ 54. Plaintiffs characterize the Decision as a reversal of “longstanding federal policy, ” and challenge it on a number of substantive and procedural grounds. Id. ¶¶ 55-81.

         Plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal with the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (“IBIA”), requesting that the Decision be vacated. Id. ¶¶ 82-83. The IBIA eventually transferred the appeal to Defendant Michael Black, the then-Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, who issued a decision denying Plaintiffs' appeal. Id. ¶¶ 89, 95.

         On September 20, 2017, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit, claiming that the Decision, and the affirmance of the Decision, violated the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) and Plaintiffs' constitutional right to due process. Id. ¶¶ 100-65. As relief, Plaintiffs seek that both decisions be declared unlawful and vacated, that the Court enjoin Defendants from relying on the vacated decisions for any action by the Department of the Interior, that the individuals involved in rendering these decisions be enjoined from further adjudicating the questions in this case, that this matter be remanded to the BIA “for government to government consultation and, as appropriate, decision by a neutral decision-maker on recognition and the Plaintiffs' ISDEAA application, ” and that they be granted costs and attorneys' fees. Id. at 26-27.


         Rule 24(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs intervention as a matter of right. That provision provides, in relevant part, that “[o]n timely motion, the court must permit anyone to intervene who . . . claims an interest relating to the property or transaction that is the subject of the action, and is so situated that disposing of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the movant's ability to protect its interest, unless existing parties adequately represent that interest.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 24(a)(2). Consistent with this language, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (the “D.C. Circuit”) has identified four requirements for intervention as a matter of right:

(1) Timeliness: First, an application to intervene in a pending action must be timely. Karsner v. Lothian, 532 F.3d 876, 885 (D.C. Cir. 2008). Whether a given application is timely is a context-specific inquiry, and courts should take into account (a) the time elapsed since the inception of the action, (b) the probability of prejudice to those already party to the proceedings, (c) the purpose for which intervention is sought, and (d) the need for intervention as a means for preserving the putative intervenor's rights. Id. at 886.
(2) Interest: Second, the putative intervenor must have a “legally protected” interest in the action. Id. at 885. The test operates in large part as a “practical guide, ” with the aim of disposing of disputes with as many concerned parties as may be compatible with efficiency and due process. United States v. Morten, 730 F.Supp.2d 11, 16 (D.D.C. 2010).
(3) Impairment of Interest: Third, the action must threaten to impair the putative intervenor's proffered interest in the action. Karsner, 532 F.3d at 885. The inquiry is not a rigid one: consistent with the Rule's reference to dispositions that may “as a practical matter” impair the putative intervenor's interest, Fed.R.Civ.P. 24(a)(2), courts look to the “practical consequences” of denying intervention, Fund for Animals, Inc. v. Norton, 322 F.3d 728, 735 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (citing Natural Res. Def. Council v. Costle, 561 F.2d 904, 909 (D.C. Cir. 1977)).
(4) Adequacy of Representation: Fourth, and finally, no existing party to the action may adequately represent the putative intervenor's interests. Karsner, 532 F.3d at 885. Significantly, the putative intervenor's burden here is de minimis, and extends only to showing that there is a possibility that its interests may not be adequately represented absent intervention. Fund for Animals, 322 F.3d at 735.

         In addition to these four requirements, which emanate from the text of Rule 24(a) itself, a putative intervenor must further establish that it has standing under Article III of the Constitution. Fund for Animals, 322 F.3d at 731-32. Where a party seeks to intervene as a defendant in order to uphold or defend an agency action, it must establish: (a) that it would suffer a concrete injury-in-fact if the action were to be set aside, (b) that the injury would be fairly traceable to the setting aside of the agency action, and (c) that the alleged injury would be prevented if the agency action were to be upheld. See Am. Horse Prot. Ass'n, Inc. v. Veneman, 200 F.R.D. 153, 156 (D.D.C. 2001); see also Friends of Animals v. Kempthorne, 452 F.Supp.2d 64, 68 (D.D.C. 2006) (identifying requirements for constitutional standing in an action involving an agency action).

         III. ...

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