Casino Case: Win, Loss, or Draw for State Government?

If you gamble at a casino there is no question whether you have won or lost.  Nevertheless in a recent Supreme Court case affecting state government, involving land to be used for a casino, victory or defeat...depends.   

This week the U.S. Supreme Court held in Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians v. Patchak that the United States can be sued for acquiring land per the Indian Reorganization Act.  And a private citizen who lives near the acquired land has “standing” to bring the lawsuit. 

Section 465 of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) allows the Secretary of the Interior to acquire property “for the purpose of providing lands for Indians.”  The Secretary acquired land for the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians to open a casino. David Patchak lives near that land and sued the Secretary claiming the she lacked authority to take title to the land because Band wasn’t a federally recognized tribe in 1934 when the IRA was enacted.  Patchak also alleged economic, environmental, and aesthetic harm from the casino. 

The tribe claimed that the United States has sovereign immunity from this lawsuit per the Quiet Title Act.  The Court rejected this argument noting that Patchak wasn’t claiming title to the acquired land as required by the Quiet Title Act.  The tribe also claimed that Patchak had no “standing” to bring a lawsuit in this case because his economic, environmental, and aesthetic interests focus on land use while §465 focuses on land acquisition.  The Court again disagreed noting Secretary of the Interior takes title to property keeping in mind how the tribe will use the land.

So what exactly does this case have to do with state government?  While this case is a dispute between a private citizen and the United States, in two of the three similar cases cited by the Supreme Court, states, state agencies, and/or local government were suing the United States regarding acquisition of land for Indians. 

Do state governments benefit from a ruling in this case?  That depends.  To the extent state and local government want to bring actions under §465 this case is a win.  However, to the extent private citizens bring §465 claims and state and local government (as in this case) don’t like the position a private citizen is taking in a case, this case is a loss.  Regarding standing, the D.C. Circuit indicated that the authority of state and local government to bring §465 claims is clear.  To the extent private citizens may now have standing to bring §465 claims this may be to the advantage or disadvantage of state government depending on whether state government agrees  or disagrees with the private citizen’s position.