HomePublicationsNewsletter ArchiveNewslettersVolume 21Issue 31Sixth Circuit Dismisses State's Casino Suit Over Lansing Land in Trust

On Thursday, September 16, 2015, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the State of Michigan’s litigation challenging the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians’ (“Tribe”) application to have lands taken into trust in downtown Lansing. The Tribe has indicated that it would use this land in the future to build a casino.

The litigation centered upon 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. The State initially sued the Tribe in federal court in September 2012. In its ruling on the initial suit, the Sixth Circuit held that the State’s original claims were not ripe because the claims depended upon 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. The State argued that sovereign immunity should not apply to individual tribal leaders under a common law exception for sovereign officials that take actions that are in violation of federal or constitutional law.

In its ruling on Thursday, the Sixth Circuit held that the State’s legal theory only applies to federal or constitutional concerns and did not extend to sovereign officials who were in breach of a bilateral contract (the Tribal-State Compact). As such, the tribal leaders still maintain sovereign immunity and the court dismissed the case due to a lack of jurisdiction.

In a statement released by the Tribe, Tribal Chairperson Aaron Payment stated that “[t]his is yet another federal court ruling affirming the right of the Sault Tribe to move forward seeking federal approval for our proposed Lansing casino.” The ruling was also supported by Lansing Mayor Virg Benero, who has been a vocal proponent of the proposed development.


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