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Narragansett Indian Tribe v. State

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

January 10, 2014

NARRAGANSETT INDIAN TRIBE
v.
STATE of Rhode Island and UTGR, Inc. d/b/a Twin River and Newport Grand, LLC, Intervenor Defendant.

Page 1107

William P. Devereaux, Esq., Providence, for Plaintiff.

Michael W. Field, Department of Attorney General, for Defendant.

Present: SUTTELL, C.J., FLAHERTY, ROBINSON, and INDEGLIA, JJ.

OPINION

INDEGLIA, Justice.

The defendant, the State of Rhode Island (State), appeals from the entry of partial summary judgment in the Superior Court for the plaintiff, the Narragansett Indian Tribe (Tribe), finding that the plaintiff had standing to pursue a constitutional challenge to the 2011 Casino Act, G.L.1956 § 42-61.2-2.1, as enacted bye P.L. 2011, ch. 151, art. 25, § 2.[1] This case came before the Supreme Court for oral argument on December 4, 2013, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not be summarily decided. After carefully considering the written and oral submissions of the parties, we are satisfied that this appeal may be resolved without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the judgment of the Superior Court.

I

Facts and Travel

The underlying facts of this case are undisputed. The plaintiff, Narragansett Indian Tribe, is a group of Native Americans indigenous to the land that is now the state of Rhode Island. In 1880, the General Assembly disestablished the Tribe, leaving it with only two acres of its reservation.

Over the course of the next century, the Tribe and the state engaged in a series of disputes wherein the Tribe attempted to

Page 1108

regain the tribal lands that it had lost. At length, in 1978, the dispute was settled by means of a Joint Memorandum of Understanding (JMOU), codified at 25 U.S.C. §§ 1701 through 1716, which was signed by the Tribe, then-Rhode Island Governor J. Joseph Garrahy, the Charlestown Town Council, and certain landowners. The JMOU transferred 1,800 acres in Charlestown back to the Tribe in the form of a trust in exchange for the Tribe's agreement that the transferred acres would remain subject to the laws, regulations, and jurisdiction of the state, with the exception of hunting, fishing, and taxation. The Tribe, as the only federally recognized Native American tribe in the state, has been recognized as an independent sovereign entity to be accorded due dignity and respect. See Narragansett Indian Tribe v. State of Rhode Island, 449 F.3d 16, 31 (1st Cir.2006).

In 1988, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), 25 U.S.C. §§ 2701 through 2721, which made Class II gaming, as defined in the IGRA, subject to regulation by the National Indian Gaming Commission (Commission). The IGRA permitted federally recognized tribes to apply to the Commission for approval of gaming proposals. Accordingly, the Tribe attempted to establish a gaming facility pursuant to the IGRA, which was opposed by the state. A series of legal skirmishes between the Tribe and the state precipitated by the Tribe's desire to open a gaming facility led to then-Senator John H. Chafee attaching an amendment to the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1996, which amended the JMOU to clarify that the Tribe's lands returned to it under the JMOU were not to be treated as Indian lands for the purposes of the IGRA.

This Court has twice been asked to issue advisory opinions concerning proposed legislation in the Tribe's ongoing efforts to establish gaming in Rhode Island and has found that the proposed legislation contained constitutional defects. See In re Advisory Opinion to the Governor (Casino I), 856 A.2d 320 (R.I.2004) and In re Advisory Opinion to the House of Representatives (Casino II), 885 A.2d 698 (R.I.2005). Following these attempts, in 2006, the Tribe also proposed ...


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