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Coeur d'Alene Tribe v. Hawks

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

August 9, 2019

Coeur d'Alene Tribe, a federally recognized Indian Tribe, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Steve W. Hawks; Deanne A. Hawks, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued and Submitted October 12, 2018 Portland, Oregon

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Idaho B. Lynn Winmill, Chief District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 2:16-cv-00366-BLW

          Jillian H. Caires (argued) and Peter J. Smith IV, Smith & Malek PLLC, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Norman M. Semanko (argued), Parsons Behle & Latimer, Boise, Idaho; Matthew J. McGee, Spink Butler LLP, Boise, Idaho; for Defendants-Appellees.

          Before: Richard R. Clifton and Consuelo M. Callahan, Circuit Judges, and Roger T. Benitez, [*] District Judge.

         SUMMARY [**]

         Tribal Matters / Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         The panel reversed the district court's order dismissing for lack of subject matter jurisdiction an action filed by an Indian tribe seeking to enforce a tribal court judgment against nonmembers.

         The panel held that inherent in the recognition of a tribal court's judgment against a nonmember is a question regarding the extent of the powers reserved to the tribe under federal law. Because the action presented a substantial issue of federal law, the district court had federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         The panel reversed the district court's order and remanded for further proceedings.

          OPINION

          CLIFTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         This appeal presents the question of whether the grant of federal question jurisdiction in 28 U.S.C. § 1331 encompasses an action to recognize and enforce a tribal court's award against nonmembers of the tribe. The district court concluded that the action, filed by an Indian tribe seeking to enforce a tribal court judgment against nonmembers, did not present a federal question and dismissed it based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Inherent in the recognition of a tribal court's judgment against a nonmember is a question regarding the extent of the powers reserved to the tribe under federal law. As in previous decisions involving the application of tribal law to nonmembers, we hold that actions seeking to enforce a tribal judgment against nonmembers raise a substantial question of federal law. We accordingly reverse the district court's order dismissing the case for lack of subject of matter jurisdiction.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff-Appellant Coeur d'Alene Tribe (the "Tribe") is a federally recognized Indian Tribe and the beneficial owner of submerged portions of Lake Coeur d'Alene and the St. Joe River. See Idaho v. United States, 533 U.S. 262, 265 (2001). Defendants-Appellees Steve and Deanne Hawks are not members of the Tribe but own an interest in real property abutting the St. Joe River. The Hawks also own and maintain a boat garage set on pilings that extend from their property into the St. Joe River. Beginning in 2003, the Tribe advised the Hawks through letters and compliance orders that the pilings and boat garage encroached on land the Tribe is entitled to control. The Hawks never responded.

         In 2016, the Tribe sued the Hawks in the Coeur d'Alene Tribal Court (the "Tribal Court") for encroachment without a permit in violation of tribal law. The Hawks were served with notice but did not answer the complaint or otherwise contest the allegations. The Tribal Court accordingly entered default judgment against the Hawks in the form of a $3, 900 civil penalty and a declaration that the Tribe was entitled to remove the encroachments.[1]

         The Tribe subsequently sought federal recognition and enforcement of the Tribal Court's judgment by filing a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho.[2]The Hawks moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Tribe responded by arguing that the case fell under the court's jurisdiction to adjudicate questions of federal law because in order to enforce the judgment, the court would be required to determine the extent of the Tribal Court's jurisdiction over nonmembers, a question that federal law governs. Although the district court acknowledged that the Tribal Court's authority over the Hawks presented a federal question, it held the question was not present on the face of ...


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