On Friday, December 13th, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a District Court opinion that had found in favor of the State of Michigan with regard to the Bay Mills Indian Community’s Vanderbilt, Michigan casino location. Bay Mills had opened a casino location in Vanderbilt claiming that the land involved was “Indian Land”  as a result of it having been acquired using proceeds from the Michigan Indians Land Claims Settlement Act (“MILCS”).  In the lower District Court proceedings, both sides entered into a stipulation asking the court to interpret the phrase “held as Indian lands are held” under the MILCS to determine whether such lands qualify as “Indian Lands” for purposes of IGRA.  By putting the stipulation together and asking for a ruling, the parties were seeking to simplify the case.  The District Court went along with this request, and as a result issued an opinion stating that such land acquired with the proceeds from the MILCS did not necessarily constitute Indian Lands for purposes of IGRA.  

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision on the basis that the District Court should not have responded to the hypothetical legal question involved until the underlying factual issues were resolved. In particular, the Court noted that the Governor had argued that there was a material issue of fact with regard to the question of whether the funds used to acquire the parcel had actually come from the land claim settlement under the MILCS. The Court opined that if that factual dispute were to be resolved in favor of the state, then there would not be any need for the Court to reach a decision on the legal question involved. The Court pointed to long standing precedent suggesting that the Courts should not get involved in resolving hypothetical questions or issues, and thus found that the District Court should not have done so. The Sixth Circuit Court remanded the case to the District Court for further proceedings. The Court also suggested that the District Court should explore what effect, if any, the National Indian Gaming Commission proceedings on the case will have.  

The case will now return to the District Court for further proceedings. For further information, the website Turtletalk.blog has done an excellent job compiling the relevant briefs and the Opinion in the case at this link: https://turtletalk.blog/2019/12/16/sixth-circuit-vacates-bay-mills-gaming-case/.


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