Utah Federal District Court dismisses case filed against Ute Indian Tribe by banished tribal members
Ute Indian Tribe
On December 3, 2019, the United States District Court for the District of Utah, Judge Dale A. Kimball presiding, dismissed a case, Angelita M. Chegup, et al. v. Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, et al., filed by four members of the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation who had been banished by the Tribe in 2018. The case was filed against the Tribe, its Business Committee, which is the Tribe’s governing body, and the individual members of the Business Committee.
In describing the background of the case, the court explained as follows:
In 2018, the Tribe filed a lawsuit in federal court in the District of Columbia wherein it alleged that the United States was violating federal law by treating certain reservation lands as though they were owned by the United States outright, rather than in trust for the Tribe. The Tribe claimed that, as a result, the United States has been wrongfully appropriating revenue relating to the sale or lease of lands within the Uintah and Ouray Reservation (the “Reservation”). The Tribe also averred that Bureau of Land Management employees have been continuously trespassing upon Reservation lands to the extent that such employees have entered Reservation lands without the Tribe’s authorization. Accordingly, the Tribe sought injunctive relief along with an order quieting title in the name of the United States.
After the Tribe filed the lawsuit, Plaintiffs [i.e., the Plaintiffs in the Utah case] filed a motion to intervene. Specifically, Plaintiffs argued that the subject land should be preserved for the Uintah Band of Ute Indians, not the Tribe. The Tribe opposed Plaintiffs’ request to intervene, and the court eventually denied Plaintiffs’ motion.
In October 2018, the Business Committee received a complaint from seventy members of the Tribe wherein Tribe members requested the banishment of Plaintiffs based on alleged acts arising from Plaintiffs’ attempted intervention into the Tribe’s case that seriously threatened the peace, health, safety, morals and general welfare of the Tribe. More specifically, the complaint alleged that Plaintiffs had (1) repeatedly interfered in the Tribe’s ongoing litigation; (2) caused repeated delays and confusion in cases impacting the well-being of the Tribe; (3) engaged in vexatious litigation with the purpose of delaying legal proceedings and confusing legal issues; (4) sought to destabilize the tribal government and waste its resources; and (5) cost the Tribe millions of dollars in unnecessary legal fees by imprudently intervening into cases involving the Tribe.
The Business Committee held a hearing on the complaint, at the conclusion of which it passed a resolution banishing the four members. As part of their banishment, the members were fined and lost certain Tribal rights for five years. The members then filed the Utah lawsuit and claimed they had been banished without due process and sought to have their banishments ended. The members requested relief under the Due Process Clause of the Indian Civil Rights Act (“ICRA”), a federal law that allows parties to seek relief in federal court where they believe they have been illegally detained by an Indian Tribe.
In dismissing the case, the court held that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the banished members had not shown they were “detained”, as that term is understood under the Indian Civil Rights Act, where they had not been permanently banished. In reaching that decision, the court relied upon cases decided by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and other federal appellate and district courts. The court concluded that because the plaintiffs had not satisfied the prerequisites for relief under the Indian Civil Rights Act their claims had to be dismissed based on the Tribe’s sovereign immunity.
The Tribe’s Business Committee believes the court’s dismissal of the case properly recognizes the Tribe’s sovereign immunity and supports the Tribe’s position that the banishment of the Tribal members was not so severe as to entitle them to review under the Indian Civil Rights Act.
About the Ute Indian Tribe
The Ute Indian Tribe resides on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in northeastern Utah. Three bands of Utes comprise the Ute Indian Tribe: the Whiteriver Band, the Uncompahgre Band and the Uintah Band. The Tribe has a membership of more than three thousand individuals, with over half living on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. The Ute Indian Tribe operates its own Tribal government and oversees approximately 1.3 million acres of trust land which contains significant oil and gas deposits. The Ute Tribal Business Committee is the governing council of the Tribe. The Ute Indian Tribe is still engaged in legal battles with the state of Utah and local counties to protect the Tribe’s jurisdiction over lands that were specifically set-aside and reserved by the federal government for the benefit of the Tribe.