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Robinson v. Jewell

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

June 22, 2015

DAVID LAUGHING HORSE ROBINSON, an individual and Chairman, Kawaiisu Tribe of Tejon; KAWAIISU TRIBE OF TEJON, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
SALLY JEWELL, Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior; TEJON MOUNTAIN VILLAGE, LLC; COUNTY OF KERN; TEJON RANCH CORPORATION; TEJON RANCHCORP, Defendants-Appellees

Argued and Submitted, San Francisco, California November 20, 2014.

Page 911

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. D.C. No. 1:09-cv-01977-BAM. Barbara McAuliffe, Magistrate Judge, Presiding.

SUMMARY[*]

Tribal Land Rights

The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of the claims of the Kawaiisu, a non-federally recognized Native American group, and its elected chairperson, David Laughing Horse Robinson, asserting title to the Tejon Ranch, one of the largest continuous expanses of private land in California.

The panel held that the district court properly determined that the Tribe had no ownership interest in the Tejon Ranch and that no reservation was established. Specifically, the panel held that the district court correctly concluded that the Tribe's failure to present a claim to the Board of Commissioners created bye the California Land Claims Act of 1851 extinguished its title; that the Treaty with the Utah did not convey land rights to the signatory tribes or recognize aboriginal title; and that Treaty D was never ratified and conveyed no rights. The panel rejected the Tribe's complaints of alleged forgery and deception in obtaining patents for the four Mexican land grants comprising Tejon Ranch because all of the alleged acts occurred prior to the submission of the claims to the Board of Commissioners, and the Tribe could not challenge the validity of land patents after more than a century of time had passed.

The panel held that the claims against Kern County were subsumed into the Tejon Ranch ownership determination. The panel further held that the Tribe's claims originally asserted against the Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, and Robinson's individual claims, were waived for failure to assert them on appeal. The panel declined to consider the Tribe's new arguments on appeal.

Jeffrey M. Schwartz (argued), Schwartz Law, P.C., San Clemente, California, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Tamara N. Rountree (argued), Barbara M. R. Marvin, and William Lazarus, Attorneys, United States Department of Justice, Environment & Natural Resources Division, Appellate Section, Washington, D. C., Defendant-Appellee Secretary of Interior.

Eric D. Miller (argued), Perkins Coie LLP, Seattle, Washington; Jennifer A. MacLean, Benjamin S. Sharp, and Elisabeth C. Frost, Perkins Coie LLP, Washington D.C., for Defendants-Appellees Tejon Mountain Village, LLC, Tejon Ranch Corporation, and Tejon Ranchcorp.

Charles F. Collins (argued) and Theresa A. Goldner, Kern County Administrative Center, Bakersfield, California, for Defendant-Appellee Kern County.

Before: Sidney R. Thomas, Chief Judge, and Stephen Reinhardt and Morgan Christen, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Chief Judge Thomas.

OPINION

Page 912

Sidney R. Thomas, Chief Judge:

In this appeal, the Kawaiisu, a non-federally recognized Native American group indigenous to the Tehachapi Mountains and the Southern Sierra Nevada (" the Tribe" or " the Kawaiisu" ), and its elected chairperson, David Laughing Horse Robinson, appeal the dismissal of their claims asserting title to the Tejon Ranch, one of the largest continuous expanses of private land in California. We review de novo a district court's order granting a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Manzarek v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins., Co., 519 F.3d 1025, 1030 (9th Cir. 2008), and we affirm the judgment of the district court.

I

As with most land disputes of this type, historical perspective is important in resolving the claims. During first the Spanish and then the Mexican occupations of what is now California, those governments encouraged settlement by issuing large land grants in the territory. At the conclusion of the Mexican-American War in 1848, the United States acquired California from Mexico through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The treaty promised to honor Spanish and Mexican land grants. Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Limits, and Settlement between the United States of America and the Mexican Republic art. VIII--IX, Feb. 2, 1848, 9 Stat. 922 (" Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo" ).

The discovery of gold in California just eight days prior to the signing of the treaty, and the subsequent, unprecedented influx of settlers to the territory, placed a great deal of pressure on land claims. To resolve disputes over the validity of private title to land, Congress passed the Act of March 3, 1851, ch. 41, 9 Stat. 631 (" Act of 1851" ), commonly known as the California Land Claims Act of 1851. The Act created a Board of Commissioners (" Commission" ) to evaluate claims and required that anyone claiming title derived from a Mexican or Spanish grant present a claim to the Commission within two years. Id. § 8. Any land not claimed within that period, or for which a claim was rejected, would be returned to " the public domain of the United States." Id. § 13.

Page 913

No Indian groups, including the predecessors to the Kawaiisu, registered claims with the Commission during the two-year period. In addition, the United States Senate refused to ratify any of the eighteen treaties negotiated with California tribes between 1851 and 1852, a decision that was sealed until 1905. William C. Sturtevant, Handbook of North American Indians: California 702-03 (1978).

Following the cessation of hostilities with Mexico and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States entered into and ratified a treaty with an array of western Native American leaders collectively referred to as " the Utah." The Treaty with the Utah, signed in 1849 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, provided for an end to hostilities between the Utah tribes and the United States and stipulated ...


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