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Littlefield v. Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribe

United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

February 27, 2020, Decided

No. 16-2484

Opinion

 [*32]  LYNCH, Circuit Judge. In 2015, the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs ("BIA") approved the taking of two areas of land into  [*33]  trust for the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribe ("the Tribe"). The Tribe planned to use land taken into trust in Mashpee, Massachusetts, largely for housing, while it planned to use land in Taunton, Massachusetts, for economic activities, primarily a gaming casino and resort, to produce needed income for the Tribe. The BIA's approval construed section 19 of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 ("IRA"), 25 U.S.C. § 5129,2 to permit it to accept lands for the Tribe. Opposed local residents filed a federal suit challenging the BIA's decision. The district court found, on its own reading of the statute, [**2]  that the BIA was wrong that it had authority to take land into trust for the Tribe, and it remanded the matter to the BIA. The court's order is the subject of this appeal.

Only a few facts need be recited,3 and the procedural history of the litigation can be recounted briefly. After first rejecting appellees' contention that we lack jurisdiction to hear this appeal, we then move directly to the issue of statutory interpretation of 25 U.S.C. § 5129, a pure issue of law. We hold that the plain meaning of the IRA's text precludes the BIA's interpretation of that section, and so we affirm.

] The IRA authorizes the Secretary of the Interior "to acquire land and hold it in trust 'for the purpose of providing land for Indians.'" Carcieri v. Salazar, 555 U.S. 379, 381-82, 129 S. Ct. 1058, 172 L. Ed. 2d 791, (2009) (quoting 25 U.S.C. § 5108). The IRA further defines "Indian" as follows:

The term "Indian" as used in this Act shall include all persons of Indian descent who are members of any recognized Indian tribe now under Federal jurisdiction, and all persons who are descendants of such members who were, on June 1, 1934, residing within the present boundaries of any Indian reservation, [**3]  and shall further include all other persons of one-half or more Indian blood.

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951 F.3d 30 *; 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 6007 **; 2020 WL 948895

DAVID LITTLEFIELD; MICHELLE LITTLEFIELD; TRACY ACORD; DEBORAH CANARY; FRANCIS CANARY, JR.; VERONICA CASEY; PATRICIA COLBERT; VIVIAN COURCY; WILL COURCY; DONNA DEFARIA; ANTONIO DEFARIA; KIM DORSEY; KELLY DORSEY; FRANCIS LAGACE; JILL LAGACE; DAVID LEWRY; KATHLEEN LEWRY; MICHELLE LEWRY; RICHARD LEWRY; ROBERT LINCOLN; CHRISTINA MCMAHON; CAROL MURPHY; DOROTHY PEIRCE; DAVID PURDY; LOUISE SILVIA, Plaintiffs, Appellees, v. MASHPEE WAMPANOAG INDIAN TRIBE, Defendant, Appellant, BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS, U.S. Department of the Interior; RYAN ZINKE, in his official capacity as Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior; LAWRENCE ROBERTS, Acting Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs, U.S. Department of the Interior; U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR; UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendants.

Prior History:  [**1] APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS. Hon. William G. Young, U.S. District Judge.

Littlefield v. United States DOI, 199 F. Supp. 3d 391, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98732 (D. Mass., July 28, 2016)

CORE TERMS

Tribe, antecedent, ambiguity, district court, plain meaning, federal jurisdiction, remand order, descendants, cases, canon, reservation, unambiguous, redundancy, qualify, houses, refers, rented, summary judgment, eligible, residing, card

Governments, Native Americans, Indian Reorganization Act, Property Rights, Civil Procedure, Preliminary Considerations, Justiciability, Mootness, Appeals, Appellate Jurisdiction, Final Judgment Rule, Interlocutory Orders, Remands, Legislation, Interpretation