Sault Tribe wins dismissal of off-reservation gaming litigation

Artist's rendering of the proposed Kewadin Lansing Casino in Lansing, Michigan. Image from Sault Tribe

A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit that sought to prevent the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians from pursuing an off-reservation casino.

The state of Michigan sued the tribe and its leaders for merely proposing the $245 million Kewadin Lansing Casino. But the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals determined the tribe was protected by sovereign immunity.

The decision left open the possibility that the case could proceed against the tribe's leaders. However, Judge Robert Jonker said those leaders are also protected by sovereign immunity because the state hasn't explained whether they violated any laws by filing a land-into-trust application for the casino site.

"There is nothing wrong in principle with filing a land in trust application," Jonker wrote in the nine-page decision. "To the contrary, such a filing would normally be protected First Amendment activity. The only thing the filing allegedly violated here was a bilateral promise – a contract."

An aerial view of the proposed Kewadin Lansing Casino in Lansing, Michigan. Image from Sault Tribe

The tribe filed land-into-trust applications for the property in Lansing and another for a proposed casino in Huron Charter Township. Both sites were purchased in connection with the Michigan Indian Land Claims Settlement Act.

The tribe believes that the law requires the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place the land in trust. The agency, however, has yet to make a decision.

Generally, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act bars gaming on land acquired after 1988. Section 20 of the law contains an exception for tribes with land claim settlements but the issue hasn't been fully settled in Michigan.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Michigan v. Payment.

Get the Story:
Federal court dismisses State attempt to block Lansing casino (WLNS 9/16)
Casino in downtown Lansing closer after judge rejects state's lawsuit, backers say (MLive 9/16)
Federal judge sides with tribe trying to build Lansing casino (Michigan Radio 9/16)
Federal judge throws out state’s case against Lansing casino (The Lansing State Journal 9/17)

6th Circuit Decision:
Michigan v. Sault Ste Marie Tribe (December 18, 2013)

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