Articles Posted in Native American Law

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Plaintiffs Joni Tillich, Nicole LaFloe, Shawn Marcellais, Lisa DeCoteau, and Lynn Boughey filed an action in district court against defendants Don Bruce, Vinier Davis, and Linda Davis. The complaint alleged a tort claim for abuse of process based upon the defendants filing an action against the plaintiffs in Turtle Mountain Tribal Court. Defendants answered the complaint and raised defenses of lack of subject matter jurisdiction, lack of personal jurisdiction, and alleged the claim to be frivolous. Defendants also filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter and personal jurisdiction and requested attorney fees and statutory costs for defending the action. Defendants filed and served several discovery requests and motions including interrogatories, requests for production, notice of deposition, subpoena duces tecum, and motions to command compliance with subpoena and to command attendance at deposition. After a hearing on the motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the district court converted the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment because matters outside the pleadings were presented. Defendants' argument the district court lacked jurisdiction was based upon the fact the Plaintiffs' action was a tort claim against members of a federally recognized Indian tribe for actions alleged to have occurred between tribal members within the exterior boundaries of the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. The district court granted the motion for summary judgment and dismissed the action without prejudice. The court ultimately denied defendants' request for attorney fees, determining no fees should be awarded in the case after "[t]aking into account fees and expenses previously awarded in the companion case, 40-2015-CV-3." An inaccuracy in the judgment following the district court's order was found and corrected. The district court entered a corrected judgment and defendants appealed the corrected judgment. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the district court's denial of the defendants' request for attorney fees under N.D.C.C. 28-26-01(2) and remanded for calculation of attorney fees based upon accepted factors, and ordered the district court award attorney fees to the defendants. View "Tillich v. Bruce" on Justia Law

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Arrow Midstream Holdings, LLC and Arrow Pipeline, LLC (collectively "Arrow") appealed, and Tesla Enterprises, LLC ("Tesla") cross-appealed, a judgment dismissing without prejudice for lack of jurisdiction its action against 3 Bears Construction, LLC and Tesla for breach of contract and a declaration that Tesla's pipeline construction lien was invalid. In 2013, Arrow hired 3 Bears to be the general contractor for the construction of a pipeline located on a right-of-way easement acquired by Arrow from the Bureau of Indian Affairs over Indian trust land on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. 3 Bears entered into a subcontract with Tesla to supply materials and labor for the construction. 3 Bears was owned by two members of the Three Affiliated Tribes ("Tribe") and was certified under the Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance ("TERO"). 3 Bears claimed Arrow was a covered employer who was required to comply with TERO rules. After the pipeline was completed, a dispute arose between 3 Bears and Tesla concerning amounts Tesla claimed it was owed by 3 Bears for work Tesla performed. In mid-2014, Tesla sent Arrow a notice of right to file a pipeline lien under N.D.C.C. ch. 35-24. Tesla recorded the pipeline lien against Arrow in the Dunn County recorder's office in June 2014. In July 2014, Arrow commenced this action in state district court challenging the validity of the pipeline lien, seeking indemnification, and claiming 3 Bears breached the parties' contract. In August 2014, 3 Bears moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In November 2014, 3 Bears filed a complaint against Tesla and Arrow in Fort Berthold Tribal Court. 3 Bears sought a declaration that the pipeline lien was invalid, alleged Arrow had breached the master service contract, and requested an award of damages. In December 2014, the state district court agreed with 3 Bears' argument that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the lawsuit. The court concluded "exercising jurisdiction over this action under the circumstances presented here would infringe upon Tribal sovereignty." The court further concluded, "at the very least, Arrow and Tesla, as a matter of comity, should be required to exhaust their tribal court remedies before this Court exercises jurisdiction." The court dismissed the action "without prejudice to allow any of the parties to re-open the case without payment of another filing fee should it become necessary for purposes of enforcing the Tribal Court action or for any other reason." After review of the matter, the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed and remanded, concluding the district court had jurisdiction over this lawsuit. View "Arrow Midstream Holdings, LLC v. 3 Bears Construction, LLC" on Justia Law

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G.L. appealed a juvenile court order terminating his parental rights. He argued the juvenile court erred by declaring him in default, finding the conditions and causes of the child's deprivation were likely to continue, and determining the Indian Child Welfare Act ("ICWA") did not apply. M.R., the child at issue, was placed in the custody of social services due to concerns that her mother was unfit to care for her. After the child was placed into custody, a social services employee petitioned for termination of parental rights. The petition stated that paternity had not been confirmed, but it noted an individual named V.G. could be the father. It was subsequently established that V.G. was not the father. G.L. then came forward claiming to be the father, but his paternity was never confirmed by biological testing. At a hearing on the petition, M.R.'s mother appeared and stated she desired to voluntarily relinquish her parental rights. In an interim order, the juvenile court noted ICWA might apply because G.L. was a member of the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe. The juvenile court then sent notices of the right to intervene to the tribe. In response, Spirit Lake Tribal Social Services sent a letter stating that, after reviewing the case, the tribal court and the ICWA director "would support the current Termination of Parental Rights in order to establish permanency for [M.R.]." Noting G.L. had refused paternity testing, the tribe indicated it would not intervene unless there was biological proof G.L. was M.R.'s father. At the hearing on termination of parental rights, G.L.'s counsel was present, but G.L. failed to appear. His counsel requested a continuance so G.L. could be present; the court denied the motion. G.L.'s attorney told the court he had recently learned that G.L. was incarcerated in Minnesota. The court then took a recess to allow G.L.'s attorney to contact G.L. to determine whether he could appear by telephone. After the recess, G.L.'s attorney informed the court that he chose not to attempt to contact G.L. "based on all the conversations [he] had previously with [G.L.]." The hearing then proceeded in G.L.'s absence. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the juvenile court did not err when it terminated G.L.'s parental rights, and it affirmed the order. View "Interest of M.R." on Justia Law

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B.B. appealed a trial court judgment establishing him as the father of the child, J.Z.T., and ordering him to reimburse the State for past support paid on behalf of the child and to pay future child support. The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the state court's exercise of jurisdiction did not infringe on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's right of self-government, as claimed by B.B. View "North Dakota v. B.B." on Justia Law

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North Central Electric Cooperative appealed a district court judgment affirming a Public Service Commission order that dismissed its complaint against Otter Tail Power Company. The Commission decided it did not have regulatory authority over Otter Tail's extension of electric service to a facility owned by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians on tribal trust land within the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. North Central argued on appeal: (1) the Commission has jurisdiction under North Dakota law; and (2) the Commission's findings were not supported by a preponderance of the evidence and did not sufficiently address North Central's evidence. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the Commission did not err in deciding it lacked authority to regulate the Tribe's decision to have Otter Tail provide electric service to a tribal-owned facility on tribal-owned land within the reservation. View "North Central Electric Coop., Inc. v. Public Service Commission" on Justia Law

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Defendant Linus Poitra appealed a default judgment entered by the district court regarding a lease between Plaintiff Darrel Gustafson as lessee and Leon and Linus Poitra as lessors. Linus Poitra argued the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to enter the default judgment because the Poitras were members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and the land subject to the lease is Indian-owned fee land located within the boundaries of the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. Linus Poitra argued the default judgment infringed upon tribal sovereignty because of cases pending in the Turtle Mountain Tribal Court. Upon review of the applicable legal authority and the evidence presented at trial, the Supreme Court vacated the default judgment finding that the district court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over the lease.