United States District Court, District of Columbia
COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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,
Defendant-Intervenor-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 Defendant-Intervenor 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.
before the Court are Plaintiffs'  Motion for Summary
Judgment, Defendants'  Cross-Motion for Summary
Judgment, and Defendant-Intervenor's  Cross-Motion
for Summary Judgment. Upon consideration of the pleadings,
relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the
Court DENIES Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment and
GRANTS both Defendants' and Defendant-Intervenor's
Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. The Court concludes that
Plaintiffs have failed to establish that Defendants violated
the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) in
making decisions recognizing Defendant-Intervenor as the
governing body of the Cayuga Nation for purposes of certain
contractual relationships between the Nation and the United
States federal government. The Court further concludes that
Plaintiffs failed to establish that Defendants violated
Plaintiffs' due process rights in making these decisions.
action seeks vacatur of the BIA and the DOI decisions
recognizing Defendant-Intervenor as the governing body of the
Cayuga Nation for purposes of certain contractual
relationships between the Nation and the federal government.
Plaintiffs argue that these decisions violated the APA as
well as the Due Process clause of the Constitution.
Cayuga Nation is one of the six nations of the Haudenosaunee
Confederacy. It adheres to a traditional government that has
historically relied on an oral, unwritten law referred to as
the “Great Law of Peace.” AR-003878; AR-0038888.
The governing body of the Cayuga Nation is the Cayuga Nation
Council. In 2006, the Council was comprised of six members
including Clint Halftown, Tim Twoguns, and Gary Wheeler. Mr.
Halftown served as the Nation's “federal
representative” in carrying out the Nation's
relations with the United States federal government.
in the early 2000s, the Council began having internal
problems. In addition to these internal problems, Plaintiffs
also allege that Cayuga citizens reported negative treatment
by Mr. Halftown and his associates. See, e.g.,
AR-000100-09; AR-000301-48; AR-000147.
problems eventually led to a split in the Cayuga Nation
Council. The “clan mothers” removed Mr. Halftown,
Mr. Twoguns, and Mr. Wheeler from their positions on the
Nation Council. AR-000163-70. Plaintiffs' group contends
that these changes were valid as the clan mothers had
absolute authority under Cayuga law to appoint and remove
members of the Nation Council. AR-003217; AR-003572.
Defendant-Intervenor's group disagrees that Cayuga law
grants the clan mothers this sort of absolute authority and
denies that the clan mothers validly removed Mr. Halftown,
Mr. Twoguns, and Mr. Wheeler from the Nation Council.
2006 decision concerning the rightful make-up of the Nation
Council, the BIA declined to recognize that Mr. Halftown had
been removed from the Nation Council or that he was no longer
the “federal representative” for the Nation.
See generally George v. E. Regional Dir., Bureau of
Indian Affairs, 49 IBIA 164 (2009) (affirming the
2011, the clan mothers again attempted to remove Mr.
Halftown, Mr. Twoguns, and Mr. Wheeler from the Nation
Council and to install new representatives. Following these
changes to the composition of the Nation Council, the clan
mothers and the new Nation Council notified the BIA of the
changes to the Nation Council. AR-00100-09. Following
briefing from both sides, in August 2011, the BIA recognized
Plaintiffs' new Nation Council, rejecting the claims of
Defendant-Intervenor. AR-002130-31. But, the Interior Board
of Indian Appeals (“IBIA”) stayed and then
vacated that decision without reaching the merits, explaining
that the BIA should never have issued a decision on the
leadership dispute. AR-002126-42; See generally Cayuga
Nation v. E. Regional Dir., Bureau of Indian Affairs, 58
IBIA 171 (2014).
2015, the Cayuga Nation's leadership dispute came to a
head. The BIA received two requests to modify existing
federal-tribal contracts under the Indian Self-Determination
Act (“ISDEAA”). AR-003217. One request came from
Plaintiffs' group; the BIA determined that the other
request came from Mr. Halftown acting as the federal
representative for the last Nation Council which had been
formally recognized by the BIA in 2006. Id.
response to these competing requests, the BIA declined to
address the merits of the Nation's leadership dispute.
Instead, the BIA continued to recognize the last undisputed
government of the Cayuga Nation which had been identified by
the BIA in 2006. The BIA concluded that the 2006 Nation
Council, with Mr. Halftown acting as federal representative,
had the authority to draw funds from the Nation's ISDEAA
contract. AR-003216-24. In recognizing the 2006 Nation
Council for purposes of deciding the 2015 ISDEAA request, the
BIA emphasized that “[t]his interim recognition
decision is intended to provide additional time to the
members of the Nation to resolve this dispute using tribal
mechanisms and prevent the need for the BIA to examine Nation
law and make a subsequent determination based on the results
of that determination.” AR-003222.
BIA's reluctance to examine Nation law and to recognize
one faction as the Nation's rightful leadership was in
line with past BIA decisions. In 2005, the BIA had rejected
an electoral process proposed by members of
Defendant-Intervenor's group to determine the leadership
of the Cayuga Nation. AR-000053-54. In 2012, the BIA again
rejected a similar electoral process proposed by members of
that group. AR-003411 n.3. And, the BIA rejected a 2014
request from members of Defendant-Intervenor's group
asking the BIA to verify the results of a campaign of
support. AR-003075; AR-003223.
its 2015 decision, the BIA cautioned that it could not
forever refrain from recognizing a new Nation Council. The
BIA explained that while “current circumstances [did]
not warrant a decision on the merits of Nation law, ”
the need to make such a decision “may … arise at
a future time, conceivably when the time comes for the Nation
to renew an [ISDEAA] contract.” AR-003222. The BIA
stated that it would not enter a new ISDEAA contract absent a
“consensus” Nation Council resolution.
there was little chance for a consensus resolution from the
2006 Nation Council given that the council had not met for a
decade, excluding federally-supervised mediation meetings.
Moreover, Plaintiffs' group claimed that it had formed a
new, valid Nation Council without any members from
Defendant-Intervenor's group. AR-003564, AR-003882;
AR-003897. This lack of a consensus Nation Council risked
federal grant money, funding from other United States
agencies, the Nation's pending land trust application,
and more. AR-003249.
response to this stand-still, in 2016, Defendant-Intervenor
initiated a new “statement of support”
(“SOS”), asking the Nation's members to
“memorialize in writing, their understanding of Nation
law and traditions regarding certain Nation governance
matters.” AR-003878 (internal quotation marks omitted).
The SOS's first proposition dealt with “the process
by which the Nation is governed and its leaders are selected,
” and the second proposition dealt with “the
identity of those individuals who are the authorized clan
representatives on the Nation Council.” AR-003340-49.
preparation for their planned SOS, in the summer 2016,
Defendant-Intervenor wrote to the BIA and requested
“technical assistance” with the SOS.
AR-003246-54. Three days later, the BIA sent a letter to
Plaintiffs advising them of Defendant-Intervenor's
the letter stated:
The Bureau of Indian Affairs has been consulted by Mr.
Halftown and his group regarding a way to identify the Cayuga
Nation's leadership and confirm or reaffirm the Cayuga
Nation's governing structure, and we have agreed that
under the current circumstances a “Statement of
Support” process would be a viable way of involving the
Cayuga people in a determination of the form and membership
of their tribal government. We want this process to be
inclusive and to obtain a true sense of what the Cayuga
people support. To that end, we hope that you will provide
honest feedback to Mr. Halftown. If you have an alternative
method for obtaining accurate information regarding the will
of the Cayuga Nation's citizens, please be forthcoming
with a proposal. Alternatively, if you prefer to communicate
your concerns to my office, we will gladly share those
concerns with the other parties involved.
AR-003262. The BIA requested a response from Plaintiffs
within 10 days of the receipt of the letter. Id.
Plaintiffs requested an extension of time to respond and were
granted an extension.
the BIA warned Plaintiffs that “it is important that
your comments be provided as soon as possible because the
campaign described in my letter and in the letter you
received from the group led by Mr. Halftown is going to be
getting underway.” AR-003266.
response, Plaintiffs presented to the BIA their objections to
the SOS campaign. AR-003264-65; AR-003299-337; AR-003350-51.
Plaintiffs also sent a letter to the Cayuga Nation citizens
expressing their determination that the use of the SOS
“is not the way of our people.” AR-003352. The
letter asked the Nation's citizens to “reject this
process of voting by mail, and support the Cayuga
Nation's traditional system of consensus decision making
by the chiefs and clan mothers.” Id.
a two-month process, citizens of the Cayuga Nation received
and responded to Defendant-Intervenor's SOS materials.
AR-3567. The results of the SOS were confirmed by the BIA
which found that “of 392 adult Cayuga citizens
identified on the membership roll, 237 submitted statements
of support for both of the two propositions.”
AR-003880. Accordingly, over 60% of the Cayuga Nation
indicated through the SOS that the Defendant-Intervenor
comprised the lawful Nation Council.
the SOS campaign was proceeding, the BIA again received two
competing proposals to enter a new ISDEAA contract on behalf
of the Cayuga Nation. AR-003367-70; AR-003374-80. One
proposal came from Plaintiffs' group, the other from
Defendant-Intervenor's group. Facing competing contract
requests with no overlap in Nation Council membership, the
BIA's Regional Director, Bruce Maytubby, asked both sides
to submit an opening and a response brief on (1) “the
validity of the [SOS] as a matter of Cayuga law, ” (2)
“[c]oncerns about how the [SOS] process had been
conducted on the ground, ” and (3) “[t]he
validity of the [Plaintiffs'] claim that it was vested
with tribal government authority via traditional tribal
the parties' briefing, Regional Director Maytubby
determined that he could no longer take the interim approach
of 2015 and recognize the 2006 Nation Council. In 2016, Mr.
Halftown had submitted a contract proposal on behalf of a new
Nation Council, not in his capacity as the 2006 Nation
Council's federal representative. AR-03565. Accordingly,
for many reasons, Regional Director Maytubby determined that
“it [was] time to look at the processes the Cayuga
Nation has undertaken to resolve this dispute.”
Id. In addressing the merits of the leadership
dispute, Regional Director Maytubby considered the arguments
of both parties as well as Cayuga law to conclude that
“the results of the [SOS] campaign should be
respected.” AR-003572. Having recognized the validity
of the SOS campaign, Regional Director Maytubby considered
other objections from Plaintiffs including objections to the
format and content of the SOS. AR-003570-76. “[B]ased
on a complete review of all the information in the record
regarding this dispute, ” Regional Director Maytubby
“determined that the [SOS] campaign carried out during
the summer of 2016 was a valid resolution of an intratribal
dispute by a tribal mechanism.” AR-003563-64.
Accordingly, Regional Director Maytubby recognized
Defendant-Intervenor as the Nation's governing body for
purposes of the ISDEAA contract. Id.
appealed the decision of Regional Director Maytubby, and
Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Michael Black, assumed
jurisdiction over the appeal. AR-003666-67. Plaintiffs raised
numerous objections to Regional Director Maytubby's
decision in their appellate opening and response briefs. But,
ultimately, Assistant Secretary Black rejected
Plaintiffs' objections and affirmed the decision of
Regional Director Maytubby. AR-003876-903.
Assistant Secretary Black's denial of their appeal,
Plaintiffs brought suit in this Court on September 20, 2017.
On February 9, 2018, Plaintiffs moved for a Preliminary
Injunction enjoining Defendants from enforcing or relying on
the BIA's decision and the appellate affirmation of that
decision. See generally Pls.' Mot. for Prelim.
Injunc., ECF No. 22. On March 27, 2018, the Court denied
Plaintiffs' Motion, finding that “Plaintiffs have
not demonstrated that they are likely to succeed on their
claims, most of which are based on speculation or can be
distilled to mere disagreements with the decisions reached by
the agency.” March 27, 2018 Mem. Opinion, ECF No. 42,
2. Prior to denying Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary
injunction, the Court had allowed the Halftown group or the
Cayuga Nation Council to intervene in the case. See
generally Feb. 23, 2018 Order, ECF No. 28. All parties
have moved for summary judgment, and those motions are
currently before the Court.
Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,
“[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant
shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material
fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” However, “when a party seeks review of
agency action under the APA [before a district court], the
district judge sits as an appellate tribunal. The
‘entire case' on review is a question of
law.” Am. Bioscience, Inc. v. Thompson, 269
F.3d 1077, 1083 (D.C. Cir. 2001). Accordingly, “the
standard set forth in Rule 56[ ] does not apply because of
the limited role of a court in reviewing the administrative
record. . . . Summary judgment is [ ] the mechanism for
deciding whether as a matter of law the agency action is
supported by the administrative record and is otherwise
consistent with the APA standard of review.” S.E.
Conference v. Vilsack, 684 F.Supp.2d 135, 142 (D.D.C.
“sets forth the full extent of judicial authority to
review executive agency action for procedural
correctness.” Fed. Commc'n Comm'n v. Fox
Television Stations, Inc., 556 U.S. 502, 513 (2009). It
requires courts to “hold unlawful and set aside agency
action, findings, and conclusions” that are
“arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or
otherwise not in accordance with law.” 5 U.S.C. §
706(2)(A). “This is a ‘narrow' standard of
review as courts defer to the agency's expertise.”
Ctr. for Food Safety v. Salazar, 898 F.Supp.2d 130,
138 (D.D.C. 2012) (quoting Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass'n
of U.S., Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 463
U.S. 29, 43 (1983)). However, an agency is still required to
“examine the relevant data and articulate a
satisfactory explanation for its action including a rational
connection between the facts found and the choice
made.” Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass'n, 463 U.S.
at 43 (internal quotation marks omitted). “Moreover, an
agency cannot ‘fail[ ] to consider an important aspect
of the problem' or ‘offer[ ] an explanation for its
decision that runs counter to the evidence' before
it.” Dist. Hosp. Partners, L.P. v. Burwell,
786 F.3d 46, 57 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting Motor Vehicle
Mfrs. Ass'n, 463 U.S. at 43).
their Complaint, Plaintiffs bring six claims for relief. In
Count 1, Plaintiffs argue that Defendants violated the APA by
acting contrary to law in determining that the SOS was a
valid mechanism for selecting the membership of the Cayuga
Nation Council. Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 100-12. In
Count 2, Plaintiffs contend that Defendants violated the APA
by failing to provide a reasoned explanation for departing
from prior policy and approving the SOS as a lawful method of
selecting members for the Cayuga Nation Council. Id.
at ¶¶ 113-23. In Count 3, Plaintiffs allege that
Defendants violated the APA by ignoring and minimizing
evidence showing that the results of the SOS were unreliable.
Id. at ¶¶ 124-29. In Counts 4 and 5,
Plaintiffs claim that Defendants violated the APA as well as
Constitutional due process by failing to provide Plaintiffs
with a neutral decision maker. Id. at ¶¶
130-50. Finally, in Count 6, Plaintiffs contend that
Defendants violated due process by allowing Assistant
Secretary Black to participate in both Regional Director
Maytubby's December 2016 decision and the appeal of that
decision. Id. at ¶¶ 151-65.
move for summary judgment as to all counts in their
Complaint, except for Count 6. Defendants and
Defendant-Intervenor move for summary judgment as to all
counts, including Count 6. For the reasons given below, the
Court concludes that Plaintiffs have failed to establish that
Defendants violated the APA or due process in issuing
Regional Director Maytubby's original decision or
Assistant Secretary Black's appellate decision.
Count 1- APA Violation Based on Determination that the SOS
was a Valid Mechanism for Selecting Tribal
Plaintiffs contend that Defendants violated federal and
Cayuga Nation law by supporting and accepting the results of
the SOS campaign. Plaintiffs have two primary arguments as to
why Defendants' determination that the SOS was a valid
mechanism for selecting Nation leadership was contrary to
law. First, Plaintiffs argue that Assistant Secretary Black
failed to review Regional Director Maytubby's legal
conclusion de novo as was required by law. Second, Plaintiffs
argue that Cayuga Nation law did not support the use of the
SOS. The Court is not persuaded by either of Plaintiffs'
initial matter, Plaintiffs contend that Assistant Secretary
Black was required to use de novo review on questions of
Cayuga Nation law when reviewing Regional Director
Maytubby's decision. But, instead of using de novo
review, Plaintiffs argue that Assistant Secretary Black
impermissibly deferred to Regional Director Maytubby's
analysis of Cayuga law.
Court concludes that Assistant Secretary Black was not
required to use de novo review over Regional Director
Maytubby's analysis of Cayuga Nation law. In support of
their argument that de novo review was required, Plaintiffs
cite to opinions setting forth the general proposition that
the IBIA “reviews legal issues, and the sufficiency of
the evidence to support a decision, de novo.”
Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians v. Pac.
Regional Dir., Bureau of Indian Affairs, 62 IBIA 103,
114 (2016); see also Maniilaq Ass'n v. Burwell,
72 F.Supp.3d 227, 234 (D.D.C. 2014) (“Questions of law
are reviewed de novo under the APA as in ordinary
these cases are not persuasive. First, this appeal was
decided by the Assistant Secretary, not by the IBIA; and
Plaintiffs present no evidence that the Assistant Secretary
would be required to exercise the same standard of review as
the IBIA. Second, while it is generally true that the IBIA
reviews questions of law de novo, that is not the case with
Indian law. Instead, “unless … tribal law
clearly dictate[s] a particular outcome, [the IBIA] will
afford BIA latitude to exercise discretion in determining
with whom it will deal in carrying on the
government-to-government relationship with the Tribe.”
Picayune Rancheria, 62 IBIA at 114; see also
LaRo cque v. Aberdeen Area Dir., Bureau of Indian
Affairs, 29 IBIA 201, 204 (1996) (deferring to BIA's
“reasonable interpretation” of tribal law).
recognizing that caselaw does not support their position,
Plaintiffs also cite a comment in Assistant Director
Black's appellate decision stating that “issues of
law and challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence are
reviewed de novo.” AR-003883. Plaintiffs argue that
Assistant Secretary Black should be bound by this statement.
But, here, Assistant Director Black is restating only the
general standard of review. His statement was completely
silent as to the standard of review for Indian law, and his
statement in no way implies that the Assistant Secretary was
binding himself to ignore precedent and to review Regional
Director Maytubby's conclusions of Indian law de novo.
even if Assistant Secretary Black was required to exercise de
novo review, Plaintiffs have not shown that he failed to do
so. Plaintiffs contend that Assistant Secretary Black merely
reviewed Regional Director Maytubby's consideration of
Cayuga Nation law and deemed it “reasonable.”
AR-003888. But, in his opinion, Assistant Secretary Black
specifically stated that he “receiv[ed] and
consider[ed] briefing from both Councils that set out their
views on Cayuga law.” AR-0038889. And, considering the
parties' arguments on Cayuga law, Assistant Secretary
Black determined that respecting the results of the SOS was
“valid.” Id. The Court has no reason to
doubt Assistant Secretary Black's statement that he
considered the parties' arguments on Cayuga law. And,
Plaintiffs cite nothing indicating that Assistant Secretary
Black was required to do more than review the objections to
Regional Director Maytubby's analysis, analyze those
objections as they relate to Cayuga Nation law, and, in each
instance, determine that Regional Director Maytubby's
determinations were valid.
final attempt, Plaintiffs argue that Assistant Secretary
Black could not have properly considered Cayuga law in
issuing his judgment because Defendants omitted certain
evidence of Cayuga law from the February 2018 Administrative
Record. Plaintiffs allege that the February 2018
Administrative Record did not contain certain documents on
Cayuga law that Plaintiffs had provided to Regional Director
Maytubby and to Assistant Secretary Black. Despite these
omissions from the Administrative Record, in his Declaration,
Assistant Director Black declared: “the Administrative
Record that was filed in this case on February 21, 2018 was
the entirety of the Administrative Record that was before me
and which I consulted during my consideration of Mr.
Jacobs' administrative appeal of the Decision.”
Declaration of Michael S. Black, ECF No. 32-1, ¶ 7.