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Chemehuevi Indian Tribe v. McMahon

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

August 19, 2019

Chemehuevi Indian Tribe, on its own behalf and on behalf of its members parens patriae; Chelsea Lynn Bunim; Tommie Robert Ochoa; Jasmine Sansoucie; Naomi Lopez, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
John McMahon, in his official capacity as Sheriff of San Bernardino County; Ronald Sindelar, in his official capacity as deputy sheriff for San Bernardino County, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued and Submitted May 13, 2019 Pasadena, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California Dolly M. Gee, District Judge, Presiding

          Lester John Marston (argued), Rapport and Marston, Ukiah, California, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

          Shaun M. Murphy (argued) and Katelyn K. Empey, Slovak Baron Empey Murphy & Pinkey LLP, Palm Springs, California; Michelle Blakemore and Miles Kowalski, San Bernardino County Counsel, San Bernardino, California; for Defendants-Appellees.

          Before: Kim McLane Wardlaw and Andrew D. Hurwitz, Circuit Judges, and Edward R. Korman, [*] District Judge.

         SUMMARY [**]

         Civil Rights/Indian Country

         The panel affirmed in part and vacated in part the district court's dismissal of a complaint and remanded in an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe and four of its enrolled members alleging violations of various federal statutory and constitutional rights in connection with citations by San Bernardino County Sheriff's Deputies of four Tribe members for violating California regulatory traffic laws.

         The panel first analyzed the history and establishment of the Chemehuevi Reservation and concluded that the area where the Tribe members were cited was within the boundaries of the Reservation and hence was "Indian country" under 18 U.S.C. § 1151(a). Accordingly, the panel held that San Bernardino County did not have jurisdiction to enforce California regulatory traffic laws within that area.

         The panel held that the individual plaintiffs, but not the Tribe, could challenge the citations under § 1983. The panel held that because § 1983 was designed to secure private rights against government encroachment, tribal members could use it to vindicate their individual rights, but not the tribe's communal rights. The panel therefore vacated the district court's judgment dismissing the complaint as to the individuals, but affirmed the judgment as to the Tribe.

          OPINION

          HURWITZ, Circuit Judge:

         In 2015, San Bernardino County Sheriff's Deputies cited four enrolled members of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe for violating California regulatory traffic laws. Two of the Tribe's members were cited on Section 36 of Township 5 North, Range 24 East ("Section 36"), a one square mile plot the Tribe claims is part of its Reservation; two were cited elsewhere on the Reservation.

         It is undisputed that the Sheriff cannot enforce regulatory traffic laws in "Indian country." See 18 U.S.C. § 1162; 28 U.S.C. § 1360. "Indian country" includes, but is not limited to, land within the boundaries of a reservation. 18 U.S.C. § 1151. The issues for decision today are (1) whether the individual Tribe members and the Tribe can challenge the citations through a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action; and, if so, (2) whether Section 36 is Indian country. We hold that the individual plaintiffs, but not the Tribe, can challenge the citations under § 1983. And, we conclude that all the citations occurred within Indian country. We therefore vacate the district court's judgment dismissing the complaint as to the individuals but affirm the judgment as to the Tribe.

         I. Background.

         A. Facts.

         Chelsea Lynn Bunim, Jasmine Sansoucie, Tommie Robert Ochoa, and Naomi Lopez are enrolled members of the Chemehuevi Tribe. Each was stopped and cited by a San Bernardino County Sheriff's Deputy for violating a California regulatory traffic law. Deputy Sheriff Ronald Sindelar stopped and cited Bunim on Section 36 for driving without a valid registration. Sindelar impounded Bunim's car, leaving her alone on ...


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