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Karuk Tribe of Cal. v. United States

Citation: 30 ELR 20565
No. Nos. 99-5002 et al., 209 F.3d 1366/(Fed. Cir., 05/05/2000)

The court holds that the 1998 Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act did not constitute a taking of Native Americans' vested property interests in the land and resources of the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in California. The court first holds that the Native Americans who reside on the reservation do not have a vested property interest in the land. Nothing in the 1864 Act that allowed for the establishment of the reservation demonstrates a definite intention by congressional action to create a vested interest in the Native Americans who would reside on the reservations created under the Act. Instead, the statutory language provides the president with the discretion to create reservations and expressly states that the United States retained the land. Additionally, orders issued by the president pursuant to the Act do not demonstrate a definite intention by the United State to confer property rights on the Native Americans of the reservation. The court next holds that later legislative and judicial action did not confirm vested property rights. The 1864 Act and the executive orders that created the reservation gave the Native Americans the right to occupy the land, however, rights of occupancy do not constitute compensable property interests unless specifically recognized as ownership by an act of Congress. This specific recognition has not been shown. The permanent status of a reservation is not immutable, nor does it grant any permanent right to Native Americans thereon. Additionally, the appropriation of funds by Congress to the reservation for various purposes does not represent the clear-cut vesting of permanent rights required for compensation. The court further holds that one tribe's continuous occupancy and use of the joint reservation and its resources do not demonstrate the tribe's compensable interests. Finally, the court holds that the passage of the Indian Mineral Leasing Act of 1927 did not acknowledge Native Americans' title to executive order reservation lands. Therefore, because the Native Americans did not show possession of compensable property rights, the court does not need to examine whether the 1998 Settlement Act took or extinguished any rights.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (21 pp., ELR Order No. L-220).

Counsel for Plaintiff
Dennis J. Whittlesey
Jackson & Kelly
2401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 400, Washington DC 20037
(202) 973-0200

Counsel for Defendant
John A. Bryson
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000