On Monday, June 18, 2012, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians v. Patchack, et al. (Slip Opinion No. 11-246), holding that the respondent, Mr. David Patchack, had established standing and could proceed on the merits. The issue was decided on an 8-1 vote, with Justice Kagan authoring the lead opinion and Justice Sotomayor providing a dissenting opinion.
The case, which has now been remanded to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, will now proceed to determine whether the Secretary of the Interior properly took land into trust for the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (“Tribe”) for the Gun Lake Casino.
On June 18, 2012, the Tribe issued a statement regarding the Supreme Court’s decision. Tribal Chairman D.K. Sprague stated that “[w]e are ready to continue that fight in federal court and we are confident the facts will clearly prove once and for all that Patchak’s claims have absolutely no merit. The Tribe would prefer to devote its resources to the economic development of the area; however, since Patchak’s lawsuit dictates otherwise, the Tribe will do what is necessary to prevail.” Chairman Sprague also noted that the decision would have no effect on Gun Lake Casino operations.
The issued opinion considered issues of sovereign immunity and standing during the land-in-trust process used by the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust by the federal government on behalf of a Native American tribe. The land-in-trust process is an important aspect of Native American gaming law that, in addition to other rights, allows a tribe to conduct Class III gaming activities on the land after receiving certain state and federal approvals.
Specifically, the Supreme Court considered arguments regarding whether a private individual is able to bring suit against the federal government resulting from a gaming operation conducted on trust lands. Circuit courts have been split on the issue, with the Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits stating that the federal government is immune to all such suits under the Quiet Title Act. Conversely, the D.C. Circuit has held that the government is immune only when a plaintiff claims title to the land.
It is important to note that the Court did not consider the merits of the case and limited its holding to issues of standing. As such, the Court’s holding did not resolve the substance of the alleged claims but allows Patchak to move forward with his lawsuit at the District Court level.