HomePublicationsNewsletter ArchiveNewslettersVolume 21Issue 10Sault Tribe Officials Seek Dismissal of Lansing Casino Lawsuit

On Friday, March 20, 2015, tribal government officials of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians (“Tribe”) filed a motion to dismiss the State of Michigan’s most recent complaint regarding the Tribe’s efforts to develop a casino in Lansing. The State’s amended complaint, filed on February 3, 2015, follows a remand of the litigation by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013.

At issue in the litigation is whether the Tribe can apply to have certain parcels of property in Lansing taken into trust by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior before it obtains written revenue sharing agreements with the other federally recognized Indian Tribes in Michigan pursuant to Section 9 of the Tribe’s Tribal-State Gaming Compact with the State of Michigan. Having this land taken into trust is one of the required steps that a Native American tribe must take in order to open a casino pursuant to the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

After the Tribe sought to place the Lansing land into trust, the State sued the Tribe in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan in September 2012 (Case No. 1:12-cv-00962-RJJ). The District Court initially granted an injunction in favor of the State that prevented the Tribe from moving forward with plans for a Lansing-based casino. The Sixth Circuit, however, subsequently overturned this injunction but issued a stay of the proceedings until the State had a chance to apply for certiorari with the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court did not grant certiorari in the case, dismissing the request on June 5, 2014 per request of the parties to the suit due to the Supreme Court’s recent precedent in Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community,which affected the claims of the current lawsuit.

In addition, the Sixth Circuit held that the State’s original claims were not ripe because the claims depended on future events that are uncertain and that federal law did not abrogate the Tribe’s sovereign immunity. The Tribe and the State jointly agreed to dismiss the case in December  of 2014 and to allow the State to bring new claims against the Tribe’s individual officers in an amended pleading.

In its amended complaint, the State dropped the Tribe as a party to the suit, instead listing the individual tribal officers as defendants and maintained its arguments that the conduct of each tribal officer related to the Tribe’s land-into-trust efforts would result in a breach of the Tribal-State Gaming Compact. As such, the State is seeking to have the court order the tribal officials to withdraw the Tribe’s land-into-trust applications and related submissions.

The tribal officers’ motion to dismiss the suit argues that the each officer retains sovereign immunity when conducting official tribal business. Furthermore, the Tribe must be joined to any lawsuit involving its gaming compact as a necessary party because “[h]owever creatively pled, all of the State’s claims would require interpretation of the Tribe’scompact” (emphasis in original). Defendant’s Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint, p. 13 (Mar. 20, 2015). As noted above, the Sixth Circuit ruled that the Tribe’s sovereign immunity would bar the current lawsuit until such immunity is otherwise waived or abrogated by the actions of the Tribe. Such a waiver or abrogation is unlikely to be found unless or until the Tribe actually begins Class III gaming in violation of its gaming compact with the State.

The District Court has scheduled a hearing on the Tribe’s motion to dismiss for Wednesday, June 17, 2015.


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