United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER GRANTING INTERVENORS' MOTION TO
HONORABLE JOHN C. COUGHENOUR JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on 271 Nooksack Tribal
Members' motion to intervene (Dkt. No. 14). Having
thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the
relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary
and hereby GRANTS the motion for the reasons explained
matter arises out of the U.S. Department of the
Interior's (DOI) decisions not to recognize any actions
taken by the Nooksack Indian Tribal Council after March 24,
2016. (See Dkt. No. 1.) Plaintiff the Nooksack
Indian Tribe brought this action against various
members of the DOI and its bureaus (collectively referred to
as federal Defendants) to challenge the DOI's decisions
and compel federal Defendants “to fully fund contracts
awarded to the Tribe.” (Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 1.) Among
the actions the DOI refused to recognize was the
disenrollment of 306 members of the Nooksack Tribe.
(Id. at ¶¶ 30-44.) Some of the disenrolled
members have another pending action before this Court,
arising out of the same set of facts. See Rabang v.
Kelly, C17-0088-JCC. Now, 271 of the disenrolled
Nooksack Tribal Members bring this motion to intervene in this
separate action. (Dkt. No. 14.) Intervenors argue they may
intervene as a matter of right or, in the alternative, the
Court should allow permissive intervention. (Id.)
Federal Defendants do not oppose this motion. (Dkt. No. 18.)
Plaintiff, however, opposes the intervention. (Dkt. No. 22.)
Intervention as a Matter of Right
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2), a “party
seeking to intervene as of right must meet four requirements:
(1) the applicant must timely move to intervene; (2) the
applicant must have a significantly protectable interest
relating to the property or transaction that is the subject
of the action; (3) the applicant must be situated such that
the disposition of the action may impair or impede the
party's ability to protect that interest; and (4) the
applicant's interest must not be adequately represented
by existing parties.” Arakaki v. Cayetano, 324
F.3d 1078, 1083 (9th Cir. 2003), as amended (May 13,
2003). In general, courts liberally construe Rule 24(a) in
favor of potential intervenors. California ex rel.
Lockyer v. United States, 450 F.3d 436, 440 (9th Cir.
parties agree that Intervenors' motion to intervene is
timely. Therefore, the Court will move on to consider the
other three factors, all of which must be met to allow for
intervention as a matter of right. Arakaki, 324 F.3d
applicant has a ‘significant protectable interest'
in an action if (1) it asserts an interest that is protected
under some law, and (2) there is a ‘relationship'
between its legally protected interest and the
plaintiff's claims.” Lockyer, 450 F.3d at
441 (quoting Donnelly v. Glickman, 159 F.3d 405, 409
(9th Cir. 1998)). The Supreme Court has yet to provide a
clear definition of an interest that satisfies Rule 24(a)(2).
See Arakaki, 324 F.3d at 1084 (stating that the
phrase “significantly protectable” is not a term
of art in law and “sufficient room for disagreement
exists” over its meaning). However, the Ninth Circuit
views the “interest test” as “primarily a
practical guide to disposing of lawsuits by involving as many
apparently concerned persons as is compatible with efficiency
and due process.” In re Estate of Ferdinand E.
Marcos Human Rights Litig., 536 F.3d 980, 985 (9th Cir.
2008) (internal quotes omitted).
proposed intervention is primarily based on their interest in
tribal membership. (Dkt. No. 14 at 14.) Plaintiff argues,
however, that the correct venue for the determination of
tribal membership lies exclusively with the Nooksack Indian
Tribe, as federal courts do not have jurisdiction over tribal
law disputes. (Dkt. No. 22 at 5-7.) However, the Ninth
Circuit has rejected the notion that Rule 24(a)(2) requires a
specific legal or equitable interest. “[A] party has a
sufficient interest for intervention purposes if it will
suffer a practical impairment of its interests as a result of
the pending litigation.” Lockyer, 450 F.3d at
441. Here, it is unquestioned that Intervenors have an
interest in this matter because the validity of their
disenrollment is at stake. Although the Court does not have
the power to review tribal membership decisions, the Court
does have the power to review the DOI's decision not to
recognize the disenrollment actions. Therefore, Intervenors
have demonstrated a sufficient interest.
the second prong, the resolution of Plaintiff's claims
must actually affect Intervenors. Arakaki, 324 F.3d
at 1084. For example, the Ninth Circuit found that the
National Audubon Society's interest in the preservation
of birds and their habitat gave it the right to intervene in
a suit brought by a non-profit organization dedicated to
multiple use management of public lands against the DOI.
Sagebrush Rebellion, Inc. v. Watt, 713 F.2d 525,
527-28 (9th Cir. 1983) (“An adverse decision in this
suit would impair the society's interest in the
preservation of birds and their habitats.”). There is
no doubt that Intervenors' interests are related to
Plaintiff's claims. If federal Defendants prevail,
Intervenors' interest in membership will be directly
affected. Additionally, Intervenors' economic interest in
the contracts and services rendered to tribal members are
issue in the underlying matter. Therefore, the Court
concludes that Intervenors have a significantly protectable
interest in this action.