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Jamul Indians can sue judge says

JAMUL, Calif. – A federal judge ruled Jan. 9 that the small Indian reservation Jamul can proceed with its lawsuit against California highway officials. The reservation, known as the Jamul Indian Village, sued Caltrans for allegedly imposing on its sovereign rights by requiring the tribe to go through a full environmental impact study in its plans to build a casino.

U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw rejected Caltrans’ plea to dismiss the lawsuit. Caltrans argued that the construction and operation of the planned Class II casino violated their state sovereignty by encroaching on Caltrans’ state jurisdiction over its highway system. Caltrans sought immunity protection under the 11th Amendment.

Sabraw denied that motion.

“The tribe merely seeks a declaration of its rights and an injunction restraining defendants from acting contrary to federal law,” the judge wrote in the ruling and added the tribe’s request for an injunction “does not intrude on state sovereignty.”

The lawsuit asked for an injunction to stop Caltrans from blocking access onto the reservation if the tribe proceeded with construction without an impact study.

“It reiterates what we felt, that they were treating us in a discriminatory way,” said Jamul Council Member Richard Tellow.

Caltrans officials declined to comment but provided court documents that spelled out their basis to dismiss the case. Among them, was Caltrans’ assertion that an injunction would infringe on Caltrans’ duty to maintain the safety and efficiency of a portion of State Highway 94 that will abut the casino if built. Both sides agree it is a treacherous segment cornered off by blind spots in both directions.

Sabraw gave Caltrans 20 days to answer the tribe’s lawsuit.