HomePublicationsNewsletter ArchiveNewslettersVolume 18Issue 256th Circuit Issues Ruling on Bay Mills Vanderbilt Casino

On Wednesday, August 15, 2012, the U.S. 6thCircuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion vacating a preliminary injunction issued by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan that forced the Vanderbilt casino which had been operated by the Bay Mills Indian Community (“Bay Mills”) and remanding the case to the lower court for further proceedings.

The preliminary injunction was granted on March 29, 2011 in favor of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians who, in addition to the state of Michigan, filed a lawsuit against Bay Mills shortly after the Vanderbilt casino opened. Though the state did not file for an independent injunction, it did file a brief in support of the Little Traverse’s motion for a preliminary injunction, which the District Court granted leading to the appeal to the 6thCircuit.

Bay Mills opened the Vanderbilt casino on November 3, 2010. The state attorney general’s office issued a letter to Bay Mills on December 16, 2010, which demanded that the tribe cease all gaming activity at the Vanderbilt facility due to the state’s allegations that the tribe was operating an illegal casino (since the state contended that the necessary state and federal approvals had not been obtained). Litigation began on December 21, 2010 when the state and the Little Traverse Bay Band filed separate lawsuits challenging the validity of the Vanderbilt casino under tribal compacts and federal law. Shortly after the initial filings, the District Court consolidated the two cases.

In vacating the injunction, the court held that the District Court lacked jurisdiction as to some claims and that Bay Mills’ sovereign immunity barred additional claims in the case. By doing so, the court rejected arguments from the state that Bay Mills had waived its sovereign immunity through gaming compact language with the state or by implied agreement. The court closed its opinion by stating that the lack of jurisdiction would not necessary preclude the state from obtaining relief in the action, stating that the state may ask the federal government to bring suit on its behalf or to attempt to put forth claims that encompass conduct outside of Indian country.

The case, State of Michigan, et. al. v. Bay Mills Indian Community, docket nos. 1:10-cv-1273; 1:10-cv-1278, will now proceed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.


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