Stand Up for California! v. United States Dep't of Interior, 2:16-cv-02681-AWI-EPG

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
PartiesSTAND UP FOR CALIFORNIA!, et al., Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR, et al., Defendants, NORTH FORK RANCHERIA OF MONO INDIANS, Intervenor-Defendant.
Decision Date05 August 2021
Docket Number2:16-cv-02681-AWI-EPG

STAND UP FOR CALIFORNIA!, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR, et al., Defendants,

NORTH FORK RANCHERIA OF MONO INDIANS, Intervenor-Defendant.

No. 2:16-cv-02681-AWI-EPG

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 5, 2021


ORDER ON RENEWED CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, AND PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO STRIKE

(DOC. NOS. 73, 77, 79 & 84)

Plaintiffs Stand Up for California!, Randall Brannon, Madera Ministerial Association, Susan Stjerne, First Assembly of God - Madera, and Dennis Sylvester (“Stand Up”) filed their lawsuit against the United States Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Indian Affairs and the heads of both entities (“Federal Defendants”) in an effort to prevent the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians of California (“North Fork”) from conducting class III gaming operations. The Court permitted North Fork to intervene in this action as a co-defendant.[1] Now before the Court are the parties' renewed cross-motions for summary judgment, which were timely filed after the Ninth Circuit vacated part of this Court's order on summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. For the following reasons, the Court will grant Defendants' motions and deny Stand Up's.

BACKGROUND

The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians is a federally recognized Indian tribe with a reservation located in Madera County, California.[2] In 2005, North Fork submitted a fee-to-trust application to the Department of the Interior (the “Department”) pursuant to the Indian Reorganization Act. 25 U.S.C. § 5108. With the application, North Fork sought to have roughly 305 acres in Madera County (the “Madera Parcel”) taken into trust for purposes of developing an off-reservation casino and hotel resort. North Fork later supplemented their application by requesting an exemption from the general prohibition of gaming on newly acquired trust lands under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”). 25 U.S.C. § 2719(a), (b)(1)(A). In 2011, the Secretary of the Interior (the “Secretary”) granted that exemption by making a two-part determination that a gaming establishment would be in the best interest of the tribe and would not be detrimental to the surrounding community. AR240-291. California's governor concurred in that determination. AR317-318. Meanwhile, as part of its broader review of North Fork's fee-to-trust application, the Department prepared an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Protection Act (“NEPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(C), and made a conformity determination under the Clean Air Act (the “CAA”), 42 U.S.C. § 7506(c)(1). AR179-216. In 2012, the Department agreed to take the Madera Parcel into trust for the tribe. AR159-227.

A month later, Stand Up and others filed suit in federal court, challenging the Department's fee-to-trust and gaming exemption decisions based, in part, on arguments under NEPA and the CAA. These arguments were ultimately rejected, and the Department's decisions were upheld. Stand Up for California! v. U.S. Dep't of the Interior, 204 F.Supp.3d 212, 323 (D.D.C. 2016), aff'd, 879 F.3d 1177, 1190-92 (D.C. Cir. 2018).

Concurrent to this lawsuit, California enacted a statute that ratified a Tribal-State compact to govern class III gaming activities on the Madera Parcel that was negotiated by the tribe and the governor. Cal. Gov't Code § 12012.59; AR320-438. The Secretary later published notice of the compact. Notice of Tribal-State Class III Gaming Compact taking effect, 78 Fed. Reg. 62, 649, (Oct. 22, 2013). California voters then rejected by referendum the compact-ratifying statute before the underlying agreement could take effect.[3]

After the state refused to negotiate a new compact, North Fork commenced an action under IGRA to compel as much. North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians of Cal. v. California, No. 1:15-cv-00419-AWI-SAB (E.D. Cal. Mar. 17, 2015). This Court granted North Fork's motion for judgment on the pleadings and ordered the tribe and the state to conclude a compact within sixty days. 2015 WL 11438206, at *12 (E.D. Cal. Nov. 13, 2015). Once that deadline passed without an agreement, the Court appointed a mediator who was directed to select a proposed compact from the parties' last best offers. AR2187. The mediator selected North Fork's proposal, and later notified the Secretary when California did not consent to this selection. AR2187. On July 29, 2016, the Secretary-through Lawrence S. Roberts, Acting Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs-exercised authority under IGRA to prescribe procedures under which class III gaming could be conducted on the Madera Parcel. AR2189-2325.

Stand Up and others then filed this action to challenge these “Secretarial Procedures, ” which they claimed violated the Johnson Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1171-1178; NEPA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321-4370m; the CAA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 7401-7671q; and IGRA, 25 U.S.C. §§ 2701-2721. Doc. No. 1. Stand Up also brought a claim under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552.[4] Doc. No. 1. North Fork intervened and became co-defendants with the Department. Doc. No. 23. After the Court granted summary judgment to Defendants on all of Stand Up's claims, while also denying Stand Up's summary judgment motion, Stand Up appealed the dismissal of its Johnson Act, NEPA, and CAA claims. Doc. Nos. 58 & 60. The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in Defendants' favor on the Johnson Act claim, and vacated summary judgment on the NEPA and CAA claims and remanded for further summary judgment proceedings. Stand Up for California! v. U.S. Dep't of the Interior, 959 F.3d 1154 (9th Cir. 2020). Thereafter, the parties each filed renewed summary judgment motions. Doc. Nos. 73, 77 & 78.

LEGAL STANDARD

Under the Administrative Procedure Act, a court shall set aside a final agency decision that is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). When applying this narrow standard of review, a court is not to replace its own judgment for that of the agency. Fed. Commc'ns Comm. v. Fox Television Stations, Inc., 556 U.S. 502, 513 (2009). Instead, the court determines whether the agency based its decision on a consideration of the relevant facts and satisfactorily articulated an explanation for its determination. Dep't of Homeland Sec. v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal., 140 S.Ct. 1891, 1905 (2020); Fox Television Stations, 556 U.S. at 513. This standard is “highly deferential”-an agency's decision is presumptively valid and shall be affirmed if a reasonable basis exists for the decision. Kern Cty. Farm Bureau v. Allen, 450 F.3d 1072, 1076 (9th Cir. 2006). Nonetheless, the court must set aside the agency's decision where “there is no evidence to support the decision or . . . the decision was based on an improper understanding of the law.” Kazarian v. U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Servs., 596 F.3d 1115, 1118 (9th Cir. 2010).

Summary judgment is an appropriate mechanism for reviewing an agency decision. City & County of San Francisco v. United States, 130 F.3d 873, 877 (9th Cir. 1997). The usual “genuine dispute of material fact” standard does not apply. San Joaquin River Grp. Auth. v. Nat'l Marine Fisheries Serv., 819 F.Supp.2d 1077, 1083-84 (E.D. Cal. 2011). Rather, the court determines “whether or not as a matter of law the evidence in the administrative record permitted the agency to make the decision it did.” San Francisco, 130 F.3d at 877 (quoting Occidental Eng'g Co. v. Immigration & Naturalization Servs., 753 F.2d 766, 770 (9th Cir. 1985)).

DISCUSSION

The renewed summary judgment motions once again address Stand Up's claims against the Secretary's prescription of Secretarial Procedures based on provisions of NEPA and the CAA. Broadly, Stand Up has alleged that prescribing Secretarial Procedures triggered duties to prepare an environmental impact statement under NEPA and make a conformity determination under the CAA. Because the Secretary did neither for these Secretarial Procedures, Stand Up contends that both environmental laws were violated here. Defendants disagree that this pair of statutory duties was triggered under the circumstances of this case. The Court will turn to Stand Up's claims after first unpacking the statutory nature of Secretarial Procedures.

A. Secretarial Procedures under IGRA

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act provides “a statutory basis for the operation of gaming by Indian tribes as a means of promoting tribal economic development, self-sufficiency, and strong tribal governments.” 25 U.S.C. § 2702(1). Under IGRA, class III gaming constitutes all forms of gaming that are not class I or class II gaming (as defined by statute), and includes slot machines. 25 U.S.C. § 2703(6)-(8). Class III gaming operations are lawful on Indian lands “only if such activities are . . . conducted in conformance with a Tribal-State compact entered into by the Indian tribe and the State under paragraph (3) that is in effect.” 25 U.S.C. § 2710(d)(1)(C).[5]Given this necessity, IGRA requires states to engage in good-faith negotiations with any qualified tribe that requests to enter a Tribal-State compact. § 2710(d)(3)(A). If a district court finds that a state has failed to negotiate a compact or to do so in good faith, the court shall order the tribe and the state to conclude a compact within sixty days. § 2710(d)(7)(B)(iii). If an agreement is not then reached, the tribe and the state must each submit a proposed compact to a court-appointed mediator, who in turn must select from the two proposals the one that “best comports with the terms of this chapter and any other applicable Federal law and with the findings and order of the court.” § 2710(d)(7)(B)(iv). If the state consents to the compact selected by the mediator, “the proposed compact shall be treated as a Tribal-State compact entered into under paragraph (3).” § 2710(d)(7)(B)(vi). When the state does not consent, however, the...

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