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Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

ELR Citation: 47 ELR 20035
Nos. 16-1534, (D.D.C., 03/07/2017) (Boasberg, J. )

A district court denied native tribes' request for injunctive relief to stop the Dakota Access oil pipeline planned to run under Lake Oahe, due to laches and their unlikelihood of success on the merits. The federal government granted easements to an oil company to build a pipeline through the native lands. The tribes sought injunctive relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) because they believed that the existence of the pipeline under the lake would desecrate the waters and render them unsuitable for use in religious sacraments. The court held that the RFRA claim was barred by laches because the tribes waited nearly three years to make the claim despite knowing the planned route of the pipeline. Further, the court found that the tribes were unlikely to succeed on the merits, relying on Supreme Court precedent stating that the incidental effect on religious exercise of a government action undertaken in furtherance of the management and use of government land, even if extreme, is not alone enough to give rise to a Free Exercise claim.