Judge Spikes Michigan Casino Challenge

     (CN) – A federal judge has put the final nail in a coffin to a Michigan man’s challenge of an American Indian tribe’s opening of the Gun Lake Casino.
     David Patchak brought the 2008 case in Washington, D.C., after a band of Pottawatomi received permission from the U.S. government to build a casino in Wayland, Mich.
     Patchak’s claim hinged on the fact that federal recognition of the tribe, known as the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish or Gun Lake Band, did not occur until 1998.
     He said the tribe was thus ineligible for certain benefits of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934 that helped it acquire the casino land from the U.S. government, which took the land into trust.
     The casino opened for business in 2011 amid a series of upheavals in Patchak’s case. Though the trial court initially dismissed the case, the D.C. Circuit revived it and the case was then advanced by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012.
     Citing recent events that have “altered the legal landscape,” U.S. District Judge Richard Leon dismissed the case Wednesday.
     One development fatal to Patchak’s case is a Sept. 3, 2014, order by the secretary of the Department of the Interior that confirmed the agency’s “authority under the IRA to take land into trust on behalf of the tribe.”
     Later that month, Patchak’s case endured another blow when President Barack Obama signed into law the Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act.
     This law specifically reaffirms that the land that the U.S. Department of the Interior took into trust for the Gun Lake Band is “trust land.”
     Even more fatal to Patchak’s case is a provision in the law that calls for the “prompt” dismissal of any federal court action relating to the trust land in question.
     Patchak nevertheless filed for summary judgment on his claims, a move that earned swift derision from Judge Leon.
     “Plaintiff would have this court disregard the Gun Lake Act and proceed directly to the merits of his challenge,” the 20-page decision states. “I decline to do so. Because the Gun Lake Act purports to moot plaintiff’s case, it is hard to see how it can be ignored. To disregard it entirely would, moreover, violate the usual principle that a court is to apply the law in effect at the time it rules.”
     Patchak’s attempt to void the new law as unconstitutional failed as well, with Leon citing insufficient jurisdiction to reach the merits of this claim.
     “Taken together, the act’s plain language and legislative history manifest a clear intent to moot this litigation,” the opinion states.
     Leon chided Patchak for failing to meet the “extremely heavy burden” to overcome the presumption that federal statutes are constitutional.
     “Rather than dictate a particular outcome on the merits of plaintiff’s case, Congress has legislatively restricted the Court’s jurisdiction,” he wrote. “I find nothing constitutionally repugnant in its exercise.”
     Though Leon awarded the tribe summary judgment, Leon noted that Patchak “remains free to petition federal agencies, including the Department of Interior, for relief.”
     “Nothing in the Act can be read to restrict such advocacy and this court sees no reason to hold otherwise,” Leon wrote.
     Patchak’s opposition to the casino stems from his belief that the estimated 3.1 million visitors it will attract every year will divert medical resources from residents, increase crime, and contribute to air, noise and water pollution.
     The local character, scenery and property values in his rural community will all suffer for it, Patchak claims.

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