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Shenandoah v. Department of the Interior

Citation: 29 ELR 20249
No. 97-6142, 159 F.3d 708/(2d Cir., 10/06/1998)

The court dismisses Native American tribe members' claims that tribal leaders violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other statutes by entering into a lease for a casino on tribal land. The court first holds that the members failed to exhaust their administrative remedies before the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on the issue of whether those who signed the lease were valid tribal representatives authorized to sign the lease. This issue, raised by the tribe in the notice of appeal to the BIA, is the critical issue that underlies the members' complaint and must be resolved before the BIA can decide whether to affirm the lease approval. Moreover, in the absence of an initial determination by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the issue of tribal leadership, which involves questions of tribal law, is not properly resolved by a federal court. Further, the BIA's determination that the tribal leaders do not represent the tribe may moot the members' claims.

The court next holds that the members did not allege an actual or potential restraint on their liberty sufficiently severe to sustain their habeas corpus claim against the leaders. The members have not alleged that they were banished from the tribe, deprived of tribal membership, convicted of any crime, or that the leaders attempted in any way to remove them from the tribal territory. The court also dismisses the members' claims for an accounting of all tribal assets and the return of all net proceeds of tribal businesses under the leader's control. These claims arise under state law, and because all of the members' federal claims are dismissed, the court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over them.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Barbara J. Olshansky
Center for Constitutional Rights
666 Broadway, 7th Fl., New York NY 10012
(212) 614-6464

Counsel for Defendants
M. Alice Thurston
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before Kearse and Weinstein,1 JJ.