Littlewolf v. Hodel

Decision Date17 March 1988
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 87-822.
Citation681 F. Supp. 929
PartiesEdna Emerson LITTLEWOLF, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Donald Paul HODEL, et al., Defendants, and State of Minnesota, et al., Defendant-Intervenors.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia




Robert C. Odle, Jr., Alan J. Weinschel, R. Bruce Rich, Steven C. Schwartz, and Melissa G. Salten, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, Washington, D.C., Michael D. Ratner, David Cole, and Mahlon Perkins, Center for Constitutional Rights, New York City, for plaintiffs.

Edward J. Passarelli, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Land and Natural Resources Div., Washington, D.C., Michael D. Cox and Mariana Shulstad, Office of the Sol., U.S. Dept. of Interior, and on brief, F. Henry Habicht, II, Asst. Atty. Gen., and Roger J. Marzulla, Acting Asst. Atty. Gen., Washington, D.C., for defendants.

James M. Schoessler, Asst. Atty. Gen., William A. Szotkowski, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., and, on brief, Hubert H. Humphrey, III, Atty. Gen., State of Minn., St. Paul, Minn., for defendant-intervenor State of Minn.

Bruce J. Terris and Kathryn A. Bleecker, Terris, Edgecombe, Hecker & Wayne, Washington, D.C., Charles K. Dayton and Nancy Wiltgen Reibert, Pepin Dayton Herman & Graham, Minneapolis, Minn., for defendants-intervenors Becker, Clearwater and Mahnomen Counties.


CHARLES R. RICHEY, District Judge.

In this case, plaintiffs, twenty-two members of the White Earth Band of Chippewa Indians, seek a judgment declaring that the White Earth Reservation Land Settlement Act of 1985 ("the White Earth Act" or "the Act") is unconstitutional. In the alternative, plaintiffs ask the Court to find that the defendants have failed to abide by certain trust obligations owed to plaintiffs; if the Court so finds, they also ask the Court to order defendants to perform those duties before taking any further action under the White Earth Act.

Plaintiffs have asked for a preliminary injunction and for summary judgment on their claims. In addition, they seek certification of a class, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(2), consisting of "all Indians whose claims to land on the White Earth Reservation have been adversely affected by the White Earth Reservation Land Settlement Act." Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification, at 2. Defendants oppose the plaintiffs' motions and also ask the Court to dismiss the action, a motion that the Court will treat as one for summary judgment, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b).1 Defendant-intervenors ask for summary judgment in their favor.

Due to exigencies of time, the Court combined a hearing on the preliminary injunction with a hearing on the defendants' and defendant-intervenors' motions and a hearing on the merits. The Court has also heard from the parties on the class certification motion. After carefully considering the arguments advanced in Court, the voluminous memoranda and exhibits submitted by the parties and intervenors, and the underlying law, the Court will grant plaintiffs' motion for class certification. The Court will also, however, grant defendants' and defendant-intervenors' motions for summary judgment.


Summary judgment is appropriate when there are no genuine issues of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See, e.g., Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The facts in this case are undisputed and are necessary background to the legal analysis that follows.

Through a series of treaties culminating in the White Earth Treaty of 1867, 16 Stat. 719, the Chippewa Indians ceded most of their lands in Minnesota in exchange for certain payments and establishment of the 830,000-acre White Earth Reservation. Under the General Allotment Act of 1887 (better known as the Dawes Act) and the Nelson Act of 1889, Congress established and applied to the Chippewa Indians a system for converting this and other reservation land to individual ownership; the Acts also provided that the United States would hold each individually allotted parcel in trust for a period of time. Subsequent statutes and Executive Orders so extended this trust period that the trust has never terminated. See Indian Reorganization Act of June 18, 1934, 25 U.S.C. § 462; Act of June 25, 1910, 36 Stat. 855 (codified at 25 U.S.C. 372); Nelson Act of 1889, 25 Stat. 642; General Allotment Act of 1887, 24 Stat. 388; Executive Orders Nos. 5953 (1932), 5768 (1931), 4642 (1927).

Seemingly in disregard of this trust obligation, Congress enacted the Clapp Amendment of 1906, which removed all restrictions on alienation of land allotments to adult "mixed blood" members of the White Earth Band of Chippewa and authorized the Secretary of the Interior to grant unrestricted fee simple land patents to sufficiently competent adult full-blood Chippewa. 34 Stat. 353. As a result, these lands no longer enjoyed the tax-exempt status of properties held in trust by the federal government. See Choate v. Trapp, 224 U.S. 665, 32 S.Ct. 565, 56 L.Ed. 941 (1912). State and local governments began to tax the allotted properties, many of which were lost through tax forfeitures. See State v. Zay Zah, 259 N.W.2d 580 (Minn.1979), cert. denied, 436 U.S. 917, 98 S.Ct. 2263, 56 L.Ed.2d 758 (1978).

In 1979, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that an Indian's vested right to freedom from taxation on allotments held in trust by the United States could not be altered by the Clapp Amendment and, therefore, the tax forfeiture of plaintiff's allotment was invalid. Id. This decision clouded title to vast areas of Minnesota land. In response to this untenable situation, Congress enacted the White Earth Reservation Land Settlement Act of 1985. See, e.g., Pub.L. 99-264 § 2, 100 Stat. 61 (hereafter "White Earth Act"); S.Rep. 192, 99th Cong. 1st Sess. 1 (1985).

Under this Act, the land claims of White Earth Indians who do not choose to sue for the land itself are extinguished in exchange for compensation at a rate specified in the Act. See White Earth Act, § 8. The Act also provides a statute of limitations for suits by allottees seeking to recover the actual land allotments. These suits must be brought within 180 days after the Act's enactment (i.e., October 24, 1986) or before the Secretary of the Interior publishes a Certification that certain events have occurred,2 whichever is later.


Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a) and 23(b)(2), plaintiffs have moved to certify a class consisting of "all Indians whose claims to land on the White Earth Reservation have been adversely affected" by the White Earth Act. Plaintiffs' Motion for Class Certification, at 2. The Court must grant this motion.

Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23, a party may bring a class suit if the class is so numerous that joinder is impracticable, there are common questions of law or fact, the parties' claims are typical of the class claims, and the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interest of the class. A party seeking certification under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(b)(2) must also be able to show that those opposing the class acted or refused to act on "grounds generally applicable to the class, thereby making appropriate final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief with respect to the class as a whole." Plaintiffs satisfy these criteria.

No party disputes plaintiffs' contention that several thousand members of the White Earth Band may have a land claim that is affected by the White Earth Act. Accordingly, plaintiffs more than meet the test for numerosity of class members. See, e.g., E.E.O.C. v. Printing Industry, Inc., 92 F.R.D. 51, 53 (D.D.C. 1981). Similarly, there is no dispute that plaintiffs' claims revolve around questions of law that will affect all members of the potential plaintiff class. As such, plaintiffs satisfy the "common questions of law or fact" inquiry. See, e.g., Califano v. Yamasaki, 442 U.S. 682, 701, 99 S.Ct. 2545, 2557-58, 61 L.Ed.2d 176 (1979); 1 Newberg on Class Actions § 3.10 (1985).

Since the parties agree that injunctive and declaratory relief are the only remedies that the Court could issue in this case, the sole areas of controversy concern whether plaintiffs raise claims typical of those of the absent class members and whether plaintiffs will adequately represent the absentees. Despite the strenuous protests of defendants and defendant-intervenors, the Court finds that plaintiffs satisfy these requirements as well.

The typicality requirement ensures that the claims of the representative and absent class members are sufficiently similar so that the representatives' acts are also acts on behalf of, and safeguard the interests of, the class. See 7A C.A. Wright, A. Miller & M.K. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil § 1764. When, as here, the representatives and the absent class members would proceed on the same legal theory and would raise claims arising from the same event or course of conduct, the class members are deemed to be raising claims "typical" of those of the class as a whole. Id.; see also Streicher v. Prescott, 103 F.R.D. 559, 561 (D.D.C. 1984); 1 Newberg on Class Actions § 3.13.

Defendants and defendant-intervenors maintain that plaintiffs fall short of the typicality requirement because the named plaintiffs do not allege that they represent every possible category of land claimant. In addition, they argue that plaintiffs impermissibly rely on their racial identity with other White Earth members as proof of their typicality. Defendants and defendant-intervenors misapprehend the nature of the plaintiffs' case.

The types of land claims plaintiffs could allege in an action to recover allotted land are utterly irrelevant to this suit. Here, plaintiffs ask the Court to consider the constitutionality of a statute...

To continue reading

Request your trial
14 cases
  • Native American Mohegans v. U.S.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Connecticut
    • February 12, 2002 light of the situation or emergency that impelled enactment of the law-the time bar comports with concepts of due process."66 In Littlewolf v. Hodel, members of an Indian tribe challenged the constitutionality of a statute of limitations barring claims for the value of land allotments un......
  • Cobell v. Babbitt, Civil No. 96-1285(RCL).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • November 5, 1998
    ...The law must not only authorize the demanded action, but require it; the duty must be clear and undisputable." Littlewolf v. Hodel, 681 F.Supp. 929, 949 (D.D.C.1988) (quoting 13th Regional Corp. v. United States Dept. of Interior, 654 F.2d 758, 760 (D.C.Cir.1980) (quoting U.S. ex rel. McLen......
  • Cahn v. Berryman
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court
    • November 20, 2017 amended 2013) within the Tort Claims Act does not deny due process because it is not unreasonably short); Littlewolf v. Hodel , 681 F.Supp. 929, 939-40 (D.D.C. 1988) (collecting cases upholding "statutes of limitations barring suit within similarly short periods of time [i.e., 180 days]"......
  • Garza v. Hargan
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • March 30, 2018
    ...similar so that the representatives' acts are also acts on behalf of, and safeguard the interests of, the class." Littlewolf v. Hodel , 681 F.Supp. 929, 935 (D.D.C. 1988), aff'd sub nom. Littlewolf v. Lujan , 877 F.2d 1058 (D.C. Cir. 1989). Typicality is established if "[a] plaintiff's clai......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT