Stand Up for Cal. v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, Case No. 1:17-cv-00058 (TNM)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtTREVOR N. McFADDEN, U.S.D.J.
Citation410 F.Supp.3d 39
Parties STAND UP FOR CALIFORNIA! et al., Plaintiffs, v. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR et al., Defendants, and Wilton Rancheria, California, Intervenor-Defendant.
Decision Date07 October 2019
Docket NumberCase No. 1:17-cv-00058 (TNM)

410 F.Supp.3d 39

STAND UP FOR CALIFORNIA! et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR et al., Defendants,
and
Wilton Rancheria, California, Intervenor-Defendant.

Case No. 1:17-cv-00058 (TNM)

United States District Court, District of Columbia.

Signed October 7, 2019


410 F.Supp.3d 44

Jennifer A. MacLean, Benjamin S. Sharp, Odin Smith, Perkins Coie LLP, Washington, DC, Eric D. Miller, Pro Hac Vice, Julie Wilson-McNerney, Pro Hac Vice, Perkins Coie, LLP, Seattle, WA, for Plaintiffs.

Steven E. Miskinis, Cody L.C. McBride, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Defendants United States Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Amy Dutschke, John Tahsuda.

Cody L.C. McBride, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, for Defendant Ryan Zinke.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

TREVOR N. McFADDEN, U.S.D.J.

The U.S. Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Indian Affairs (collectively, "Federal Defendants" or the "Department") agreed to acquire land in trust for the Wilton Rancheria Tribe of California ("Wilton") to build a casino in Elk Grove, California. Several Elk Grove residents and an advocacy organization, Stand Up for California! (collectively, "Stand Up"), challenge that acquisition.

In a previous ruling, the Court granted summary judgment to the Department and Intervenor-Defendant Wilton Rancheria (collectively, the "Defendants") on Counts I and II, which challenged the authority of interim decision-makers to act on Wilton Rancheria's trust application. See Stand Up for Cal.! v. U.S. Dep't of Interior , 298 F. Supp. 3d 136 (D.D.C. 2018) (" Stand Up I "). Pending here are Stand Up's motion for summary judgment and cross-motions for summary judgment from the Department and Wilton on the remaining counts. Finding that the Department complied with the relevant statutes when it acquired the Elk Grove site, the Court will grant summary judgment for the Department and Wilton and deny it for the Plaintiffs.

I. BACKGROUND

In 2013, Wilton asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs ("BIA") to acquire land in

410 F.Supp.3d 45

trust on its behalf, identifying a 282-acre parcel near Galt, California as the proposed site. AR13431; Mem. in Opp. to Pls.' Mot. for Summ. J. and in Supp. of Wilton Rancheria, Cal.'s Cross-Mot. for Summ. J. ("Wilton's Cross-Mot. for Summ. J.") 18, ECF No. 96; see Am. Compl. ¶ 31, ECF No. 26.1 The BIA examined the Galt site for three years, along with six alternatives. AR16281; Mem. in Opp. to Pls.' Mot. for Summ. J. and in Supp. of Fed. Defs.' Cross-Mot. for Summ. J. ("Fed. Defs.' Cross-Mot. for Summ. J.") 12, ECF No. 98–1. The BIA published a notice of the Final Environmental Impact Statement ("Final EIS") shortly after the November 2016 presidential election, not for the Galt site (Alternative A), but for a different, 36-acre parcel of land in nearby Elk Grove (Alternative F). AR10259; see also FEIS and a Revised Draft Conformity Determination for the Proposed Wilton Rancheria Fee-to-Trust and Casino Project, Sacramento County, Cal., 81 Fed. Reg. 90379 (Dec 14, 2016).

Stand Up had expected during the years-long process that the Department would acquire land in Galt, not Elk Grove, so they immediately sought to delay the acquisition of title to the Elk Grove land by making several requests to the Secretary of the Interior (the "Secretary"). Am. Compl. ¶¶ 38, 40. When the Department denied Stand Up's requests, they sued in this District, seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the Department to prevent acquisition of title to the land. Id. ¶ 41. Another judge in this District denied the motions, after which Stand Up formally applied to the Department for a stay under 5 U.S.C. § 705. Minute Order, Jan. 13, 2017; Minute Order, Jan. 17, 2017; Am. Compl. ¶ 43.

Rather than halting the process, the Department shifted into warp speed—for a federal bureaucracy—to approve the application for the Elk Grove site. The Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") filed a Federal Register notice of the Final EIS, which created a 30-day waiting period that expired January 17, 2019. Environmental Impact Statements; Notice of Availability, 81 Fed. Reg. 91169 (Dec. 16, 2016) ; Fed. Defs.' Cross-Mot. for Summ. J. 13. Two days after the waiting period expired the Department issued a Record of Decision ("ROD") approving Wilton's application and authorizing acquisition of the Elk Grove land in trust. AR24430; Fed. Defs.' Cross-Mot. for Summ. J. 13. This was the final day of the Obama Administration.

After the Court's decision in Stand Up I , Counts III–V remain. See 298 F. Supp. 3d at 138. Count III challenges Wilton Rancheria's status as a "recognized Indian tribe now under Federal jurisdiction." Am. Compl. ¶ 87; 25 U.S.C. § 5129. Count IV alleges that the Elk Grove Site cannot be used for gaming because it does not qualify as "Indian lands." Am. Compl. ¶¶ 94, 96, 101; 25 U.S.C. § 2703(d). Count V challenges the Department's compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq. , and the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A), (D). Am. Compl. ¶¶ 103–104. The parties' cross-motions for summary judgment are now ripe. Pls.' Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 91; Wilton's Cross-Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 96; Fed. Defs.' Cross-Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 98-1.2

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is usually only appropriate if there is no genuine issue as

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to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56. But when a court is reviewing an administrative agency's decision, the standard set out in Federal Civil Procedure Rule 56 does not apply. See Richards v. I.N.S. , 554 F.2d 1173, 1177 (D.C. Cir. 1977). Instead, as the parties acknowledge, courts review an agency's decision under the APA. See Ramaprakash v. Fed. Aviation Admin. , 346 F.3d 1121, 1124 (D.C. Cir. 2003).

When a party challenges agency action under the APA, "the district judge sits as an appellate tribunal" and the "entire case on review is a question of law." Am. Bioscience, Inc. v. Thompson , 269 F.3d 1077 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (cleaned up). A court must "hold unlawful and set aside agency action" that is "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law." 5 U.S.C. § 705 ; Mayo v. Reynolds , 875 F.3d 11, 19 (D.C. Cir. 2017). "Agency action is arbitrary and capricious ‘if the agency has relied on factors which Congress has not intended it to consider, entirely failed to consider an important aspect of the problem, or offered an explanation for its decision that runs counter to the evidence before the agency.’ " Mayo , 875 F.3d at 19 (quoting Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass'n v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. , 463 U.S. 29, 43, 103 S.Ct. 2856, 77 L.Ed.2d 443 (1983) ). A court "must not substitute its own judgment for that of the agency." Id. at 19–20 (cleaned up).

III. ANALYSIS

A. The Plaintiffs Have Standing to Sue

The Court begins by considering Article III standing. At least one plaintiff "must present an injury that is concrete, particularized, and actual or imminent; fairly traceable to the defendant's challenged behavior; and likely to be redressed by a favorable ruling." Dep't of Commerce v. New York , ––– U.S. ––––, 139 S. Ct. 2551, 2565, 204 L.Ed.2d 978 (2019) (internal quotations omitted). Stand Up has standing "if one of its members has standing." Safari Club Int'l v. Jewell , 842 F.3d 1280, 1285 (D.C. Cir. 2016).

Plaintiffs Joe Teixeira, Patty Johnson, and Lynn Wheat are all residents of Elk Grove, who claim harm "by the decision to acquire land in trust and the environmental impacts of the proposed action." Am. Compl. ¶ 8. Stand Up for California! itself, meanwhile, includes Elk Grove residents who "will be affected by the environmental and economic impacts of the Rancheria's proposed trust acquisition and tribal casino." Id. ¶ 9. They seek declaratory and injunctive relief in the form of a court order "directing Defendants to invalidate the [Record of Decision] and record a rescission of the February 10, 2017 acceptance of the grant deed, in order to remove the Elk Grove Site from trust." Id. ¶¶ 1, 7. Thus, they meet all three standing requirements. The Defendants do not argue otherwise.3

B. Count III: Wilton is a Federally Recognized Tribe

After granting summary judgment to the Defendants on Counts I and II in Stand Up I , 298 F. Supp. 3d at 138, the Court now addresses Count III, which challenges Wilton Rancheria's legal status as a federally recognized Indian tribe. Am. Compl. ¶ 87. To analyze this claim, one must retrace Wilton's history.

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The historic Wilton Rancheria was in Sacramento County, on land acquired for it by the federal government. Am. Compl. ¶ 26. Then, in 1958, roughly 30 years after the government acquired the Rancheria, Congress enacted the California Rancheria Act ("CRA"), which authorized the termination of Wilton Rancheria and 40 other California tribes. Pub. L. No. 85-671, 72 Stat. 619 (amended...

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2 practice notes
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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 21 Abril 2020
    ...on its evaluation of the significance—or lack of significance—of the new information." Stand Up for Cal.! v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 410 F. Supp. 3d 39, 57 (D.D.C. 2019) (citations omitted) (quoting Marsh v. Or. Nat. Res. Council, 490 U.S. 360, 373, 374, 376–77, 378, 109 S.Ct. 1851, 104 L.E......
  • Friends of Earth v. Haaland, Civil Action 21-2317 (RC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 27 Enero 2022
    ...on its evaluation of the significance-or lack of significance-of the new information.” Stand Up for Cal.! v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 410 F.Supp.3d 39, 57 (D.D.C. 2019), aff'd, 994 F.3d 616 (D.C. Cir. 2021) (quoting Marsh, 490 U.S. at 378). “The overarching question is whether an EIS's defic......
2 cases
  • Gulf Restoration Network v. Bernhardt, Civil Action No. 18-1674 (RBW)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 21 Abril 2020
    ...on its evaluation of the significance—or lack of significance—of the new information." Stand Up for Cal.! v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 410 F. Supp. 3d 39, 57 (D.D.C. 2019) (citations omitted) (quoting Marsh v. Or. Nat. Res. Council, 490 U.S. 360, 373, 374, 376–77, 378, 109 S.Ct. 1851, 104 L.E......
  • Friends of Earth v. Haaland, Civil Action 21-2317 (RC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • 27 Enero 2022
    ...on its evaluation of the significance-or lack of significance-of the new information.” Stand Up for Cal.! v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 410 F.Supp.3d 39, 57 (D.D.C. 2019), aff'd, 994 F.3d 616 (D.C. Cir. 2021) (quoting Marsh, 490 U.S. at 378). “The overarching question is whether an EIS's defic......

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