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Citizen Potawatomi Nation v. Norton

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20607
Nos. No. 99-6077, 248 F.3d 993/(10th Cir., 04/25/2001)

The court affirms a district court's dismissal for failure to join indispensable parties to a Native American tribe's claims challenging the U.S. Department of the Interior's (DOI's) methods for calculating funding the tribe receives under its tribal self-governance compact. In 1988, the tribe entered an agreement with four other tribes that created a formula for dividing future federal appropriations. Ten years later, the tribe brought this suit challenging the methods used by DOI for determining the tribe's funding. The court first holds that Fed. R. Civ. P. 19 does not require the absent party to actually possess an interest, it only requires that the absent party claims an interest relating to the subject of the action. Because the tribe's present action may alter future funding for the absent tribes, the tribes can claim interests relating to the subject of the action. Similarly, one absent tribe does not present a patently frivolous claim that it shares a service area with the tribe bringing the suit. The court next holds that DOI could not adequately protect the absent tribes' interests because the absent tribes have varied and potentially conflicting interests that one party could not represent. The court further holds that the district court did not err by relying on the strong policy favoring dismissal when a court cannot join a tribe because of sovereign immunity, and the fact that the absent tribes would suffer substantial prejudice if the action proceeded without them and that there was no way to lessen that prejudice as reasons for dismissing the case, even though it meant that there would be no way to challenge the conduct in question.

The full text of this decision is available from ELR (12 pp., ELR Order No. L-361).

Counsel for Plaintiff
Michael Minnis
Michael Minnis & Associates
100 N. Broadway Ave., Oklahoma City OK 73102
(405) 235-7686

Counsel for Defendants
Arvo Q. Mikkanen, Ass't U.S. Attorney
U.S. Attorney's Office
210 W. Park Ave., Ste. 400, Oklahoma City OK 73102
(405) 553-8700