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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Michigan Casino Clash Heads to Washington

(CN) - The Supreme Court will have the final say as to whether a Michigan man can sue the government and an American Indian tribe over their plans to build a casino near his property.

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit gave David Patchak the green light in January, finding that the man had a triable claim under the Administrative Procedures Act.

Patchak says he deserves to be protected from the negative effects of a proposed casino that would occupy 147 acres of his rural farming community in Wayland Township, Mich., referred to as the Bradley Tract.

His complaint notes that the casino would bring an estimated 3.1 million visitors yearly, divert medical resources from residents, increase crime and contribute to air, noise and water pollution. Furthermore, the casino would allegedly destroy the area's rural character, diminish property values and sully the local scenery.

The government had taken the land into trust for a band of Pottawatomi, known as the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish or Gun Lake Band, which owned the property and wanted to build a casino there.

Since the Gun Lake Band was not under federal jurisdiction during the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, however, Patchak says the government's actions violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

A federal judge agreed that trust authority is limited to tribes under jurisdiction in 1934, but dismissed Patchak's suit on different grounds. The court noted that Patchak lacks prudential standing to challenge the authority of Department of the Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar since his Patchak's interests "actively run contrary" to the Indian Reorganization Act. It also noted that the government may have pre-empted Patchak's claims under Quiet Title by taking the land into trust.

But the D.C. circuit rejected this reasoning in January.

"Patchak did not have to show that the Indian Reorganization Act was meant to benefit those in his situation," Judge A. Raymond Randolph wrote for the court's three-judge panel.

"[Salazar] may act only on behalf of tribes that were under federal jurisdiction at the time of the IRA's enactment in 1934," the ruling continues. "When that limitation blocks Indian gaming, as Patchak claims it should have in this case, the interests of those in the surrounding community - or at least those who would suffer from living near a gambling operation - are arguably protected. And because of their interests, they are proper parties to enforce the IRA's restrictions."

The judge added that "it would be very strange to deny Patchak standing in this case."

"His stake in opposing the Band's casino is intense and obvious," Randolph wrote.

The zone-of-interests test of the IRA is supposed to "weed out litigants who lack a sufficient interest in the controversy."

"Patchak is surely not in that category," the ruling states.

Since Patchak did not sue for monetary damages and filed a claim relating to the government's actions "under color of legal authority," the Administrative Procedures Act states that the government does not have immunity from the suit.

Randolph also found that the Quiet Title Act of 1972 cannot bar the suit since Patchak did not claim that he owned the land. This law "reflects a congressional policy of honoring the federal government's solemn obligations to Indians with respect to title disputes over Indian trust land," according to the court.

The Supreme Court consolidated two related petitions over the case Monday, allotting one hour for oral argument.

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