FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
A federal judge in Washington, D.C., late Wednesday rejected a challenge to the U.S. Department of Interior’s January 2017 decision to place land into trust for Wilton Rancheria in Elk Grove, CA. In strongly worded language, U.S. District Court Judge Trevor N. McFadden said that Stand Up for California had either misunderstood or misread federal regulations in making arguments that Larry Roberts, the Principal Deputy Asst. Secretary for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, lacked authority to issue the Tribe's land-into-trust decision.
Stand Up for California represents gaming interests from outside Elk Grove that are opposed to Wilton Rancheria’s resort and casino project. Stand Up argued in its lawsuit that only the Interior Secretary or Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, a position vacant at the time, had authority to issue a Record of Decision to place Tribal land into federal trust. Roberts issued his Record of Decision on January 19, 2017. On February 10, Interior placed 35.9 acres of land west of Highway 99 in Elk Grove into federal trust for Wilton Rancheria.
“We are pleased that the court rejected this desperate attempt by special interests and their high-priced law firms to use the legal system to try to stifle competition,” said Wilton Rancheria Chairman Raymond C. Hitchcock. “We are grateful to the United States government for defending and upholding their federal trust responsibility to our Tribe and for protecting our inherent right to have tribal trust lands, not only for now, but for generations to come.”
In a Memorandum Opinion accompanying his order, Judge McFadden wrote:
“This case involves a uniquely Washingtonian question: when can a federal employee act in the place of an absent agency or unit head? This issue becomes acute during presidential transitions, when thousands of senior political appointees exit the government, often leaving their positions vacant for months or even years. Congress addressed this question through the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (“FVRA”), 5 U.S.C. § 3345et seq., and federal agencies have also developed complicated succession and delegation regulations. As a result,it turns out that, in practice, there are very few duties that cannot be delegated to an “acting” officeholder, the second-in-command (the “first assistant” to use the FVRA’s term), or even another official who acts in the place of the principal pursuant to agency regulations or orders.
…(U)pon consideration of the pleadings, relevant law, related legal memoranda in opposition and in support, the parties’ representations at oral argument, and the entire record, I find that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that the actions taken by Department employees in lieu of the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs (a vacant office at the time) were not in violation of departmental regulations or the FVRA.”
Last July, Gov. Jerry Brown and Chairman Hitchcock signed a Tribal Gaming Compact, which was ratified unanimously by the State Senate and Assembly in September.
On January 22 of this year the DOI published in the Federal Register notice of its approval of the gaming compact. The resort and casino project will create thousands of local jobs and help Wilton Rancheria realize its goal of self-sufficiency. The Tribe has agreed to invest $186 million in the first 20 years of the project with the City of Elk Grove and Sacramento County to support police, schools, roads and other services. The project will also enable the Tribe to invest in medical care, housing and educational opportunities for its members.
Wilton Rancheria’s tribal status was terminated in 1958, and the Tribe was finally restored, without land, in 2009, after a long-fought campaign by tribal elders. Wilton Rancheria is the only federally recognized tribe in Sacramento County. In November 2011, the Tribe adopted its modern Constitution, and since that time, tribal leadership has worked to improve the lives of its members and positively serve the community from its offices in Elk Grove.
Contact: Bob Magnuson--Townsend Calkin Tapio Public Affairs; (o) 916.551.2525; (c) 949.290.9382; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.tctpa.com