9th Circuit won't interfere in Pala Band's disenrollment dispute

Robert Smith serves as chairman of the Pala Band of Mission Indians in California. Photo from California Native American Day / Facebook

Former members of the Pala Band of Mission Indians in California can't sue tribal officials for removing them from the rolls, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday.

Generally, federal courts lack jurisdiction over tribal enrollment matters. Even though the 27 former members named individual tribal officials as defendants, the 9th Circuit said the true target was the tribe itself.

"This relief sought by the appellants clearly operates against the tribe," the court said in an unpublished decision. "The requested relief would prevent the tribe from disenrolling the appellants and compel it to reinstate their membership and tribal benefits."

YouTube: Allen v. Smith, No. 13-55552

The 9th Circuit heard oral arguments in the dispute on March 6. The quick turnaround on the decision indicates the court did not have much trouble with the case.

The plaintiffs are a part of a larger group of more than 100 that have been disenrolled from the tribe. Some asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to look into the matter but Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn said the agency lacked authority to do so.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the federal court case, Allen v. Smith. Oral arguments can be found on the Indianz.Com SoundCloud.

9th Circuit Decision:
Allen v. Smith (March 16, 2015)

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