HomePublicationsNewsletter ArchiveNewslettersVolume 20Issue 1Sixth Circuit Reverses District Court Injunction in Lansing Casino Case

On Wednesday, December 18, 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed a District Court injunction that prevented the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians’ (“Tribe”) from applying to have certain lands in Lansing taken into trust for the purpose of constructing a casino. The original injunction, issued by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan on March 5, 2013, effectively froze any further meaningful development in the Tribe’s Lansing casino plans.

The Sault Tribe is proposing to invest $245 Million in building and operating a 125,000 square foot “Kewadin Lansing Casino,” which would be located at Michigan Avenue and Cedar Street in downtown Lansing on property adjacent to the Lansing Center.

At issue in the litigation is whether the Sault 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 Sault 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 (“IGRA”). The Tribe has argued, among other things, that its plans are nonetheless allowable under the provisions of 1997 Michigan Indian Lands Claims Settlement Act (“MILCSA”), while the State of Michigan has argued that the injunction issued by the District Court should be upheld.

In its decision, the Sixth Circuit Court held that the preliminary injunction was improper for two reasons: “because the State is not suing to enjoin class III gaming activity, but instead a trust submission under MILCSA, §2710(d)(7)(A)(ii) of IGRA does not abrogate the Tribe’s sovereign immunity, and the district court lacked jurisdiction. The issue of whether class III gaming on the casino property will violate IGRA if the Tribe’s MILCSA trust submission is successful is not ripe for adjudication because it depends on contingent future events that may never occur.”

The District Court had found that the Tribe’s sovereign immunity was subject to a statutory waiver provision within IGRA that allows lawsuits to be brought against tribes in order to prevent Class III gaming activity. In its ruling, the Sixth Circuit held that the mere purchase of land with MILCSA funds was not, in itself, “gaming activity,” and therefore the statutory waiver of sovereign immunity did not apply. Accordingly, the ruling states that the District Court did not have jurisdiction over the Tribe because the Tribe’s sovereign immunity had not been waived in this instance.

While the ruling provides that the other State claims are not barred by sovereign immunity, the case is not ripe for adjudication. Here, the Sixth Circuit held that it is still uncertain whether Class III gaming will actually occur on the property, as the land must first be taken into trust and other procedural steps must be completed. The Court further held that the injunction was improper because “[t]he State will not be harmed because it will have the opportunity to bring this claim against the Tribe at a later time, and will not suffer any immediate consequence as a result of the delay.”

As the District Court’s injunction has been reversed, the Tribe may move forward with its application to have the land taken into trust by the Department of the Interior. However, as noted in the Sixth Circuit’s ruling, it appears that the State will have the opportunity to bring claims against the Tribe once, and if, these issues become ripe for adjudication.

 

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