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The Nooksack Indian Tribe v. Zinke

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

November 14, 2017

THE NOOKSACK INDIAN TRIBE, Plaintiff,
v.
RYAN K. ZINKE, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          JOHN C. COUGHENOUR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration (Dkt. No. 45) of the Court's Order denying Plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction and granting Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 43). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby DENIES the motion for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The factual background of this case has been described in detail in a previous order (Dkt. No. 43 at 1-6.) This lawsuit was initiated by members of the Nooksack Tribal Council, including “holdover” members who continued to occupy their seats on the Council after their terms expired in March 2016. (Id. at 3.)[1] Defendants consist of the Department of the Interior (“DOI”), Bureau of Indian Affairs (“BIA”) and members of the agencies' leadership. (Id. at 2.)

         On May 11, 2017, the Court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment, holding that it did not have subject matter jurisdiction because the holdover Council lacked authority to bring its claims on behalf of the Tribe during the period where DOI had refused to recognize tribal leadership. (Id. at 10.) The Court subsequently denied Plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction. (Id. at 11.)

         Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration and Defendants responded. (Dkt. Nos. 45, 47.) Before the Court addressed the motion, the parties filed a joint motion for a 120-day stay of proceedings. (Dkt. No. 49.) The Court granted the stay and the parties filed a joint status report at the end of the 120-day period. (Dkt. Nos. 51, 54.) During the stay, the parties conducted negotiations that resulted in the execution of a Memorandum of Agreement (“MOA”) between Robert Kelly, the Chairman of the Tribal Council, and Michael Black, the Acting-Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs. (Dkt. No. 54 at 2.)

         The MOA outlines a process through which the federal government will once again recognize the Nooksack Tribal Council as the governing body of the Nooksack Tribe. (Dkt. No. 54-1 at 1-2.) Under the MOA, the Tribe must hold a special election and the results must be endorsed by the BIA. (Id. at 2.) In addition, the MOA reiterated that DOI only recognizes actions taken by the Nooksack Tribal Council prior to March 24, 2016 when a quorum existed. (Id. at 1.) The special election is scheduled for December 2, 2017. (Dkt. No. 54 at 4.) In the parties' joint status report, Plaintiff asked the Court to immediately renote its motion for reconsideration. (Id. at 6.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration

         “Motions for reconsideration are disfavored. The Court will ordinarily deny such motions in the absence of a showing of manifest error in the prior ruling or a showing of new facts or legal authority which could not have been brought to its attention earlier with reasonable diligence.” Local Rule 7(h)(1). Motions for reconsideration are not the place for parties to make new arguments or to ask the Court to rethink what it has already thought. Richard v. Kelsey, C09-5253-FDB, slip op. at 1 (W.D. Wash. Nov. 9, 2009).

         Plaintiff does not present new facts or legal authority to support its motion. Rather, it argues that the Court's ruling represented both manifest error and a manifest injustice. (Dkt. No. 45 at 2.)

         1. The Court's Ruling was not Manifest Error

         Plaintiff asserts that the Court committed manifest error because it did not defer to the Tribe's reasonable interpretation of tribal law in ruling that a holdover Council could bring suit on behalf of the Tribe. (Dkt. No. 45 at 4.) The Court disagrees.

         Plaintiff is asking the Court to construe tribal judicial decisions and rule that they apply to the facts of this case. As the Court noted in its previous order, federal courts do not have authority to interpret tribal law. (Dkt. No. 43 at 11) (citing Cayuga Nation v. Tanner, 824 F.3d 321, 327 (2d Cir. 2016)). Moreover, the Court should not interpret previous tribal decisions in light of DOI's refusal to recognize Tribal leadership since March 24, 2016, when the Tribal Council last had a quorum of duly-elected members. Courts have held that it is appropriate to give ...


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