March 12, 2019

The Cayuga Nation Council achieved a critical win in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, which upheld decisions by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the Department of the Interior recognizing the Nation’s resolution of its long-running leadership dispute.  After the Nation’s leadership dispute had festered for more than a decade, the Cayuga people in 2016 undertook a traditional “statement of support” in which an overwhelming majority of eligible Cayuga citizens identified the Cayuga Nation Council as the Nation’s lawful governing body under Nation law.  Thereafter, the BIA recognized the results of the process, and the Assistant Secretary–Indian Affairs affirmed that decision.  But the faction rejected by the Cayuga people, known as the Jacobs Group, challenged those decisions in federal court, alleging that the Department acted arbitrarily and capriciously in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment.

The district court, however, rejected those arguments.  First, it denied the Jacobs Group’s application for a preliminary injunction, explaining that the Jacobs Group “disagree[d]” with the Department’s decisions, but “that disagreement is not a sufficient basis for this Court to overturn an agency decision under the APA.”  Cayuga Nation v. Zinke, 302 F. Supp. 3d 362, 370 (D.D.C. 2018).  Then, on the merits, the district court granted the motions for summary judgment filed by the Council and the federal government—definitively upholding the Department’s decisions.  Cayuga Nation v. Bernhardt, No. CV 17-1923 (CKK), 2019 WL 1130445, at *1 (D.D.C. Mar. 12, 2019).

Speaking on behalf of the Cayuga Nation Council, federal representative Halftown said the federal court’s decision represented a major step forward for the Cayuga Nation. “The Nation is grateful for this decision which, we hope, will allow our Nation to move beyond the differences that have divided us for so long and unite us going forward.”

The Jenner & Block team who worked on the case consisted of Partner and co-chair of the firm’s Indian law practice David W. DeBruin, as well as Partners Zachary C. Schauf and Previn Warren and Associate Leonard R. Powell, a member and former elected leader of the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians.