928 F.2d 1496 (9th Cir. 1991), 90-35192, Confederated Tribes of Chehalis Indian Reservation v. Lujan

Docket Nº:90-35192.
Citation:928 F.2d 1496
Party Name:CONFEDERATED TRIBES OF the CHEHALIS INDIAN RESERVATION, Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe, Chinook Indian Tribe, Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Lillian Payne Penn Pullen, Philip Ward, Leo Williams, Edward E. Claplanhoo, Glenn F. Penn, Iola Mary Penn Williams, Helen Sanders, Leda Anderson, and Gloria Brown, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Manuel LUJAN, United States Sec
Case Date:April 03, 1991
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Page 1496

928 F.2d 1496 (9th Cir. 1991)


Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe, Chinook Indian Tribe, Cowlitz

Indian Tribe, Lillian Payne Penn Pullen, Philip Ward, Leo

Williams, Edward E. Claplanhoo, Glenn F. Penn, Iola Mary

Penn Williams, Helen Sanders, Leda Anderson, and Gloria

Brown, Plaintiffs-Appellants,


Manuel LUJAN, United States Secretary of the Interior, James

Burnley, United States Secretary of

Transportation, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 90-35192.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

April 3, 1991

Argued and Submitted Oct. 5, 1990.

As Amended May 23, 1991.

As Amended on Denial of Rehearing

and Rehearing En Banc June 13, 1991.

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Dennis J. Whittlesey & Joseph S. Gerbasi of Collier, Shannon & Scott, Washington, D.C., and Jill A. Salmi, Seattle, Wash., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Richard B. Stewart, David C. Shilton, Thornton Withers Field, and Jacques B. Gelin, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., for defendants-appellees.

Richard Reich, Taholah, Wash., for amicus curiae Quinault Indian Nation.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington.

Before SKOPIL, O'SCANNLAIN and FERNANDEZ, Circuit Judges.

SKOPIL, Circuit Judge:

We are asked on this appeal to determine if the district court properly dismissed an action brought by various groups of Indians against federal officials. These Indians challenge the United States' continuing recognition of the Quinault Indian Nation as the sole governing authority for the Quinault Indian Reservation. The district court dismissed the action after concluding that the Quinault Nation is an indispensable party that cannot be joined in the action. 129 F.R.D. 171. We affirm.


This controversy is rooted in the treaty negotiations conducted at the Chehalis River Treaty Council in 1855. There, the United States, represented by Governor Isaac Stevens, sought to place all coastal and interior Indian tribes of the Olympic Peninsula onto a single reservation. All but two tribes refused to accept the United States' proposal. The Quinault and the Quillehute signed the Treaty of Olympia. A reservation was established under the terms of the treaty.

The treaty reservation proved to be inadequate for the needs of the Quinault and Quillehute Tribes. As a result, President

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Grant issued the Executive Order of November 4, 1873, enlarging the reservation and providing that it be "for the use of the Quinault, Quillehute, Hoh, Quit, and other tribes of fish-eating Indians on the Pacific coast." Thus, by treaty and executive order, various tribes of the Pacific coast became affiliated with the Quinault. See Wahkiakum Band of Chinook Indians v. Bateman, 655 F.2d 176, 178-79 (9th Cir.1981) (reviewing history of the Quinault Indian Reservation).

Several of these affiliated tribes and individual tribal members filed this action seeking to enjoin federal officials from "dealing with the Quinault Indian Nation ... as the governing body of the Quinault Indian Reservation." They also seek judgment "declaring that the [plaintiffs] have equal rights in the Reservation, are entitled to be treated equally as federally recognized Indian tribes by [defendants], and that the governing body of the Reservation must be constituted so as to reflect those rights and the rights of all Indians who are allotted at the Reservation, including the individual plaintiffs."

The United States, on behalf of the federal officials, responded by moving to dismiss the action on the ground that the district court lacked authority to decide the controversy. Specifically, the United States contended that (1) the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction; (2) the action is barred by a statute of limitations; (3) the action raises a political question not justiciable by federal courts; (4) plaintiffs failed to exhaust administrative remedies; and (5) plaintiffs failed to join an indispensable party, the Quinault Indian Nation. The district court ruled only on the last ground, holding that "plaintiffs have indeed failed to name an indispensable party in this suit, and therefore the government succeeds in its motion to have the case dismissed."


Whether a non-party is "indispensable" is determined by application of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19. Under that rule, the district court must first determine if an absent party is "necessary" to the action; then, if that party cannot be joined, the court must determine whether the party is "indispensable" so that in "equity and good conscience" the action should be dismissed. Makah Indian Tribe v. Verity, 910 F.2d 555, 558 (9th Cir.1990). The district court's decision to dismiss an action based on the absence of an indispensable party is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Id. at 557.

  1. Necessary Party

    There is no precise formula for determining whether a particular non-party is necessary to an action. See Bakia v. County of Los Angeles, 687 F.2d 299, 301 (9th Cir.1982). "The determination is heavily influenced by the facts and circumstances of each case." Id. Nevertheless, Rule 19(a) contemplates a two-part analysis to aid in determining if an absent party is necessary. First, the court must consider if complete relief is possible among those parties already in the action. Second, the court must consider whether the absent party has a legally protected interest in the outcome of the action. See Makah Indian Tribe, 910 F.2d at 558.

    We conclude that the Quinault Nation is a necessary party to the action for the reasons recognized by the district court. First, success by the plaintiffs in this action would not afford complete relief to them. Judgment against the federal officials would not be binding on the Quinault Nation, which could continue to assert sovereign powers and management responsibilities over the reservation. Second, the Quinault Nation undoubtedly has a legal interest in the litigation. Plaintiffs seek a complete rejection of the Quinault Nation's current status as the exclusive governing authority of the reservation. Even partial success by the plaintiffs could subject both the Quinault Nation and the federal government to substantial risk of multiple or inconsistent legal obligations.

    Thus, the district court properly concluded that "[t]he Tribe is most certainly a party whose interests are affected, and in whose absence complete relief may not be

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    afforded." That conclusion is entirely consistent with other decisions where courts have concluded that Indian tribes are necessary parties to actions affecting their legal interests. See, e.g., McClendon v. United States, 885 F.2d 627, 633 (9th Cir.1989) (Indian tribe is a necessary party to an action seeking to enforce a lease agreement signed by the tribe); Enterprise Mgt. Consultants, Inc. v. United States, 883 F.2d 890, 893 (10th Cir.1989) (Indian tribe is a necessary party to an action seeking to validate a contract with the tribe); Wichita and Affiliated Tribes of Oklahoma v. Hodel, 788 F.2d 765, 774 (D.C.Cir.1986) (Indian tribe's beneficiary interest in a trust makes it a necessary party to an action by a minority tribe seeking to obtain redistributions of future income).

  2. Indispensable Party

    Generally, a necessary non-party will be joined as a party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(a). Indian tribes, however, are sovereign entities and are therefore immune from nonconsensual actions in state or federal court. McClendon, 885 F.2d at 629. The parties here agree that the Quinault Nation has not waived its immunity and accordingly cannot be joined in this action. Consequently, our next step is to determine if the district court properly concluded that the Quinault Nation is an indispensable party so that the action cannot in " 'equity and good conscience' " proceed in its absence. Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(a).

    Rule 19(b) provides a four-part test to determine whether a non-party is indispensable to an action. Some courts have noted, however, that when the necessary party is immune from suit, there is very little need for balancing Rule 19(b) factors because immunity itself may be viewed as the compelling factor. See Enterprise Mgt. Consultants, 883 F.2d at 894 (citing Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, 788 F.2d at 777 n. 13). We have nonetheless consistently applied the four-part test to determine whether Indian tribes are indispensable parties. See Makah Indian Tribe, 910 F.2d at 560; Lomayaktewa v. Hathaway, 520 F.2d 1324, 1326 (9th Cir.1975), cert. denied, 425 U.S. 903, 96 S.Ct. 1492, 47 L.Ed.2d 752 (1976).

    Rule 19(b) provides that the factors to be considered to determine whether an action should be dismissed because a non-party is indispensable are: (1) prejudice to any party or to the absent party; (2) whether relief can be shaped to lessen prejudice; (3) whether an adequate remedy, even if not complete, can be awarded without the absent party; and (4) whether there exists an alternative forum. See Makah Indian Tribe, 910 F.2d at 560. The district court applied these four factors and concluded that three of the four factors favored dismissal of the action. Specifically, the court reasoned that a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs would clearly prejudice the Quinault Nation because it would presumably alter the Quinault's existing authority to govern the reservation. The court concluded that no relief could be fashioned to avoid that prejudice and that no compromise position would satisfy plaintiffs without prejudice to the Quinault Nation. The court expressed sympathy that plaintiffs lacked a qualified forum but nevertheless concluded that "it cannot ignore the rule of law on joinder of parties."


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