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Schaghticoke Tribal Nation v. Kempthorne

October 19, 2009

SCHAGHTICOKE TRIBAL NATION, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
DIRK KEMPTHORNE, SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, JAMES E. CASON, ASSOCIATE DEPUTY SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS, OFFICE OF FEDERAL ACKNOWLEDGMENT, AND INTERIOR BOARD OF INDIAN APPEALS, RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES,
THE KENT SCHOOL CORPORATION, STATE OF CONNECTICUT, TOWN OF KENT, AND THE CONNECTICUT LIGHT AND POWER COMPANY, INTERVENORS-RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES.*FN1



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Peter C. Dorsey, Judge). Petitioner-appellant Schaghticoke Tribal Nation brought a petition under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 702, challenging the Department of the Interior's determination not to "acknowledg[e]" the "tribal existence" of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation pursuant to 25 C.F.R. § 83.2. We affirm the District Court's grant of summary judgment to respondents-appellees and intervenor-appellees on the grounds that (1) the evidence presented by the Schaghticoke was insufficient to raise a claim of "improper political influence" under the standard set forth in Town of Orangetown v. Ruckelshaus, 740 F.2d 185, 188 (2d Cir. 1984), and (2) the Department of the Interior's determination did not violate the Vacancies Reform Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 3345-49d.

Affirmed.

Per curiam.

Argued: October 8, 2009

Amended: November 4, 2009

Before: MINER and CABRANES, Circuit Judges, and KORMAN, District Judge.*fn2

Petitioner-appellant Schaghticoke Tribal Nation (the "Schaghticoke") appeals from an August 27, 2008 judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Peter C. Dorsey, Judge) entered after the District Court granted summary judgment to respondents and intervenor-respondents. Schaghticoke Tribal Nation v. Kempthorne, 587 F. Supp. 2d 389 (D. Conn. 2008).

In 2005, James E. Cason, Associate Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior, issued a Reconsidered Final Determination that declined to "acknowledg[e]" the "tribal existence" of the Schaghticoke. See 25 C.F.R. § 83.2. The Schaghticoke brought this petition to challenge the Reconsidered Final Determination under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 702. The parties cross-moved for summary judgment, and the District Court concluded that the Reconsidered Final Determination was not arbitrary or capricious under 5 U.S.C. § 706. Schaghticoke, 587 F. Supp. 2d at 412-18. The District Court also rejected the Schaghticoke's contentions that the Reconsidered Final Determination was "the product of undue influence exerted by state and congressional political forces" and had been issued in violation of the Vacancies Reform Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 3345-49d. Schaghticoke, 587 F. Supp. 2d at 402, 409-12, 418-21. The District Court therefore granted summary judgment to respondents and intervenor-respondents.

On appeal, the Schaghticoke have abandoned their claim that the Reconsidered Final Determination was arbitrary or capricious. Instead, the Schaghticoke argue only that the Reconsidered Final Determination was the product of improper political influence and was issued in violation of the Vacancies Reform Act. Reviewing the District Court's grant of summary judgment de novo, see, e.g., Sassaman v. Gamache, 566 F.3d 307, 312 (2d Cir. 2009), we affirm.

I. Improper Political Influence

Although Connecticut political figures showed keen interest in whether the Department of the Interior acknowledged the Schaghticoke, the evidence submitted by the Schaghticoke cannot support a claim of improper political influence. "To support a claim of improper political influence on a federal administrative agency, there must be some showing that the political pressure was intended to and did cause the agency's action to be influenced by factors not relevant under the controlling statute." Town of Orangetown v. Ruckelshaus, 740 F.2d 185, 188 (2d Cir. 1984); accord Chemung County v. Dole, 804 F.2d 216, 222 (2d Cir. 1986).

Here, elected officials in Connecticut-including the state's Governor and Attorney General and members of the state's congressional delegation-met with and sent letters and emails to the Secretary of the Interior and other Interior Department officials expressing an adamant opposition to the Interior Department's potential acknowledgment of the Schaghticoke. Schaghticoke, 587 F. Supp. 2d at 402-05. In addition, House and Senate subcommittees held hearings at which members of Congress strongly criticized an interim decision by the Interior Department that favored acknowledgment, and a bill was introduced in the House titled the "Schaghticoke Acknowledgment Repeal Act." Id. at 405-07.

Significantly, however, Interior Department officials uniformly testified in depositions that they were not influenced by the political clamor surrounding the Schaghticoke. Id. at 404-05, 411. Any political pressure, moreover, was exerted upon senior Interior Department officials; there is no evidence that any of the pressure was exerted upon Cason, who was the official ultimately responsible for issuing the Reconsidered Final Determination. See id. at 407, 411. As a result, even if the Connecticut elected officials "intended to" influence the Reconsidered Final Determination, there is no evidence that they "did cause the agency's action to be influenced by factors not relevant under the controlling statute." ...


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