Last month, a judge kicked Napa County out of a local Indian tribe’s lawsuit that seeks federal recognition, but the county isn’t accepting its place on the sidelines.
The county announced Tuesday that it will file an appeal of U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila’s ruling, which removed the county from the Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Alexander Valley’s lawsuit.
The appeal will be filed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the county has until Oct. 28 to do that.
Davila ruled that Napa and Sonoma counties didn’t have enough of an interest in the lawsuit to remain involved, saying the counties’ fear that the tribe will pursue a casino if it gets recognition was too speculative to justify them staying in the case.
“We think Judge Davila’s ruling was wrong,” Supervisor Keith Caldwell said in a statement Tuesday. “Napa County has significant, protectable economic interests at stake in the Wappo suit, because the relief sought by the plaintiff could impact our Agricultural Preserve, our comprehensive land-use regulations and our quality of life here.”
The Wappo tribe sued the U.S. government in 2009, alleging that its federal recognition was illegally stripped from it in the 1950s. The tribe’s lawsuit seeks to have that recognition restored.
With the counties out of the case, the tribe has said it will file a motion for summary judgment. If successful, that motion would allow Davila to end the case and grant the tribe recognition.
That motion has yet to be filed, although Davila has set a case-management conference between the tribe and the federal government for Nov. 30.
The counties, which joined the suit in 2010, fear that recognition will allow the tribe to petition the government to take land into trust. That would exempt that land from local land-use and zoning laws and allow the tribe to pursue building a casino if it decided to. Tribal Chairman Scott Gabaldon has said repeatedly that his tribe has not decided whether it will pursue a casino.
The tribe’s lawsuit does seek land, but it specifies that it only seeks land that’s managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior and is available for transfer.
Davila ruled that the counties’ contending that recognition would lead to a casino was too tenuous to keep them in the lawsuit.
The possibility of a casino, he ruled, had no place in the tribe’s lawsuit seeking federal recognition.
“There is no direct, immediate or harmful effect on county land by simply placing federal land into trust as the Tribe requests,” Davila wrote. “The harm articulated by the Counties could only result if a casino was actually developed, an issue which is not encompassed by this case.”
With Napa County now out of the case, it will also ask the appellate court to review Davila’s ruling on the counties’ motion last year to dismiss the lawsuit. Davila denied that motion last October.
The county had tried to appeal that ruling earlier this year, but Davila rejected it, saying the appeal would have to wait until the case reaches its conclusion.