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DC Court Says No To Revisiting Mono Rancheria Casino Ruling

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals has denied a petition for a rehearing of a panel’s January ruling that the government acted reasonably when approving the North Fork tribe’s casino project.

In their Apr. 10 ruling, the court said the U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI) decision allowing the North Fork tribe to move forward with a planned casino in Madera County held up in the face of challenges led by Stand up for California!, and by the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, which operates its own casino in nearby Coarsegold.

For over a dozen years, the Mono Tribe has been working toward the goal of building their own casino. After their land in the North Fork area was deemed unsuitable for tribal gaming, they applied to the U.S. Department of the Interior to have 305 acres north of Madera taken into trust for the purposes of gaming, and in 2011, the application was approved by the Secretary of the Interior.

In August 2012, Governor Jerry Brown concurred with the decision to accept the land into trust. The California State Legislature then passed AB 277 in June of 2013, thereby ratifying the compact that had been negotiated between the Tribe and the State, and in October 2013, the North Fork Compact was published in the Federal Register.

However, over the last five years, Stand Up for California!, Table Mountain Rancheria, the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians and others have fought against that action through both State and Federal courts.

This week’s decision by the D.C. court clears one more hurdle for the North Fork tribe.

Here is the text of the www.law360.com article:

In a brief order providing no explanation, the circuit court denied a petition from various individuals and groups led by Stand Up For California for en banc rehearing of a panel’s January ruling.

The agency had the authority to take the land into trust under the Indian Reorganization Act and reasonably determined that the proposal complied with federal law, according to the panel.

“After reviewing thousands of pages of evidence over the span of seven years, the Interior Department took the tract of land at issue into trust for the North Fork and approved the tribe’s proposed casino,” the panel said. “Viewing the same extensive record and affording the appropriate measure of deference to the department’s supportable judgments, we, like the district court, conclude that this decision was reasonable and consistent with applicable law.”

The consolidated appeals had challenged Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell’s 2016 decision granting summary judgment to the government and the North Fork tribe, which intervened as a defendant, on most of the claims and dismissing the rest.

At the D.C. Circuit, the Picayune tribe and those led by Stand Up raised a number of statutory, regulatory and procedural challenges to the DOI’s decisions, including Stand Up’s contention that the department did not have the authority to take the land into trust because there was not enough proof to find that, as the IRA requires, the North Fork was a tribe under federal jurisdiction when the law was enacted in 1934.

But the panel ultimately concluded that the DOI was justified in holding that an election on the North Fork tribe’s reservation around the time of the IRA’s enactment, as well as other facets of the tribe’s history, establish that it was under federal jurisdiction in 1934.

In their February petition for rehearing en banc, those led by Stand Up contended that even if the DOI had the authority to take the land into trust, the DOI still should not have approved the project because it is detrimental to the surrounding community, violating the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The DOI quickly opposed the rehearing bid, saying it had elicited funding from North Fork for the treatment costs of problem gambling associated with the casino, but that requiring mitigation of larger social problems like bankruptcy and suicide “would upend the balance between state and tribal interests that Congress struck when enacting IGRA.”

Meanwhile, in its own opposition, the North Fork tribe said the panel rightly found there was “substantial evidence” to support the DOI’s finding that the tribe was under federal jurisdiction when the IRA was passed in 1934, and was therefore entitled to have land taken into trust for the casino project.

Representatives for those led by Stand Up for California were not immediately available for comment late Tuesday.

Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler expressed his wholehearted support for the court’s ruling, and says the Mono casino will bring jobs and revenue to the county.

“The MOU between the Mono tribe and the County is one of the most generous in the state of California for mitigation of the increased impact of traffic, water, fire, sheriff services and education,” said Wheeler. “This decision will provide a great economic boost to Madera County, especially North Fork,”

(To view the entire article, written by Christine Powell, visit www.law360.com.)

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