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Nooksack Indian Tribe v. Zinke

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

April 11, 2017

RYAN K. ZINKE, [1] et al., Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on 271 Nooksack Tribal Members'[2] 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 herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This 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[3] 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[4] 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.)


         A. Intervention as a Matter of Right

         Pursuant 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. 2006).

         1. Timely Motion

         The 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 at 1083.

         2. Protectable Interest

         “An 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).

         Intervenors' 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.

         As for 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.

         3. Impairment ...

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