Tribe Owes California City|$2 Million in Legal Fees

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The East Bay city of Richmond won $1.9 million in attorney’s fees from the Guidiville Rancheria of California in a fight over a planned tribal casino.
     U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers on Tuesday ordered the Guidiville Rancheria of California Pomo Indian tribe and Upstream Point Molate to pay the city’s $1,927,317.50 in attorney’s fees.
     The city sought $2,149,370.
     The tribe claimed tribal immunity but Rogers said it waived immunity when it sought attorney’s fees from the city and made hundreds of discovery requests.
     “By asserting a claim for attorney’s fees,” Rogers said, the tribe “expressly consented to this court’s jurisdiction to decide the issue of attorney’s fees against the tribe as well.”
     Rogers ruled in October that Richmond did not breach an agreement when the city decided not to support the proposed casino. City officials said increased traffic and impacts on historic resources would be too great.
     When the agreement between Richmond and Upstream was made, an environmental review of the project under the California Environmental Quality Act had not yet been completed.
     In March 2011, the city certified a final CEQA Environmental Impact Report that indicated the project would be detrimental to the city. Citing the impact on traffic and historic resources, the city backed out of the deal, leading to the breach of contract complaint.
     Rogers called the breach of contract complaint “an improper attack on the city’s exercise of its discretionary CEQA approval authority.”
     Though Upstream and the tribe contend “there is still unclear and inconsistent authority” on whether their claims “for breach of the Land Disposition Agreement for failing to issue a final determination under CEQA or failing to exercise its discretion to evaluate the CEQA considerations” constitute challenges to the approval process under CEQA, that can be made only by writ petition, Rogers said.
     “However, plaintiffs cite no competing authority and offer nothing but their own conclusory arguments to establish ‘substantial ground for difference of opinion,'” the judge wrote.
     “Likewise, disagreement with the court’s ruling is not sufficient to establish a ‘substantial ground for difference of opinion.'”
     When requesting certification of orders for interlocutory review, Upstream and the Tribe argued that “certification is appropriate upon nothing more than a showing that ‘the case law is confused,’ citing out-of-circuit authority. This is an incorrect statement of the applicable Ninth Circuit law” and “is a standard that they have failed to meet in any event,” Rogers ruled.
     The tribe and Upstream did not demonstrate how “interlocutory appeal of the orders at issue would materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation. Rather, it appears that interlocutory appeal of these orders would lead to piecemeal appeals and unnecessary complication of procedural matters.”
     In 2004, Upstream paid Richmond $250,000 for exclusive rights to redevelop a depot and then entered into a Land Disposition Agreement with the city, which agreed to transfer the property to Upstream for development of a tribal casino upon final legal approval.
     In her October ruling affirming the city’s right to kill the deal, Rogers wrote: “CEQA regulations provide that, when the EIR shows that the proposed project would cause substantial adverse changes in the environment, the governmental agency can respond to it in several ways, including ‘[d]isapproving the project.'”
     Richmond officials were not immediately available for comment Wednesday. Nor were officials for the tribe or Upstream.

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