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The Cayuga Nation v. Zinke

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 27, 2018

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



         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 (“DOI”) that recognized one faction within the Cayuga Nation-now referring to itself as the “Cayuga Nation Council, ” though alternatively referred to in the administrative record as the “Halftown Group”-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 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 BIA and DOI decisions.

         The Court shall address two pending motions in this Memorandum Opinion: Federal Defendants' [16] Partial Motion to Dismiss, and Plaintiffs' [23] Motion to Supplement the Administrative Record. Upon consideration of the pleadings, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court GRANTS Federal Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss and DENIES Plaintiffs' Motion to Supplement the Administrative Record.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises from a long-standing dispute between rival factions within the Cayuga Nation. Plaintiffs allege that the Cayuga Nation has long been governed by a Council of Chiefs selected and overseen by “Clan Mothers, ” whom Plaintiffs purport to represent in this litigation. Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 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, from which Plaintiffs were excluded. 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.” Id. ¶ 54. Plaintiffs characterize this decision as a reversal of “longstanding federal policy, ” and challenge it on a number of substantive and procedural grounds. Id. ¶¶ 55-81.

         Defendant Maytubby's December 15, 2016 decision indicated that it constituted final agency action, id., Ex. A at 15, and was accompanied by a delegation of authority to Mr. Maytubby to take such action, id. ¶ 55. Nonetheless, Plaintiffs did not file a lawsuit challenging this decision when it was issued. Instead, Plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal with the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (“IBIA”) arguing that additional administrative review was appropriate because the delegation of authority to Defendant Maytubby to take final agency action was ineffective. Id. ¶¶ 82-83. The IBIA docketed the appeal and requested briefing on the delegation issue. Id. ¶¶ 84-85. Shortly thereafter, Defendant Michael Black, the then-Acting Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs, withdrew the contested delegation to Mr. Maytubby, and himself assumed jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' administrative appeal. Id. ¶¶ 86-87. The parties submitted briefs on the merits of the dispute to Defendant Black, who ultimately issued a decision on July 13, 2017, denying Plaintiffs' appeal of Defendant Maytubby's decision. Id. ¶¶ 93-95.

         On September 20, 2017, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit, claiming that Defendants had violated the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) and Plaintiffs' constitutional right to due process. Id. ¶¶ 100-65. As relief, Plaintiffs ask that both Mr. Maytubby's decision and Mr. Black's decision be declared unlawful and vacated, that the Court enjoin Defendants from relying on the vacated decisions for any action by the DOI, 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.


         A. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction

         When a motion to dismiss a complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) is filed, a federal court is required to ensure that it has “the ‘statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate [the] case[.]'” Morrow v. United States, 723 F.Supp.2d 71, 77 (D.D.C. 2010) (emphasis omitted) (quoting Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998)). “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction” and can adjudicate only those cases or controversies entrusted to them by the Constitution or an Act of Congress. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). In determining whether there is jurisdiction on a motion to dismiss, the Court may “consider the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record, or the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.” Coal. for Underground Expansion v. Mineta, 333 F.3d 193, 198 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). “Although a court must accept as true all factual allegations contained in the complaint when reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), ” the factual allegations in the complaint “will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion than in resolving a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim.” Wright v. Foreign Serv. Grievance Bd., 503 F.Supp.2d 163, 170 (D.D.C. 2007) (citations omitted).

         B. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), a party may move to dismiss a pleading on the grounds that it “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “[A] complaint [does not] suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)). Rather, a complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations that, if accepted as true, “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         C. Motion to Supplement the ...

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