Court dismisses suit against Chumash addressing Reservation

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Lompoc Record

Harold Pierce

July 6, 2015

An artist’s rendering shows plans for the front of the Chumash Casino after expansion.

A U.S. District Court Judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians alleging that the tribe’s hotel expansion is taking place on land that is not a federally recognized reservation.

Judge R. Gary Klausner dismissed the suit Thursday filed by Save the Valley LLC on April 3, citing a lack of jurisdiction and failure to join the United States, which holds the reservation land in federal trust, as a necessary and indispensable party.

Instead, the suit named the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and five members of the tribal Business Committee, including Chairman Vincent Armenta, as defendants.

“Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, a sovereign entity is subject to a court’s jurisdiction only when it consents to be sued,” Klausner wrote in the six-page report.

The suit sought a permanent injunction of the Chumash Casino Resort’s 12-story hotel tower expansion plans.

The suit states that the reservation is “not a Federal Indian reservation, nor has it ever been a Federal Indian reservation,” citing a 1897 lawsuit stating the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians’ land was gifted to them from the Catholic Church for “domestic use” and “watering of stock and for purposes of irrigation … but for no other purposes.”

“Domestic use, of course, means household or family use, not commercial. This restriction obviously prohibits a 12-story casino and hotel,” Matthew Clarke, an attorney representing Save the Valley LLC, wrote in statement.

In a footnote, the judge’s order notes that “contrary to the text of both the 1906 decision and 1938 deed,” Save the Valley LLC claimed that domestic and irrigation restrictions applied to the entire reservation, and not just Zanja de Cota Creek water rights.

Citing another court case, Klausner took the text of the deed and decision to be true rather than Save the Valley’s allegations.

“The Court quoted from a 1938 deed that suggested the creation of a reservation.  Save the Valley LLC. argues that ‘intent’ alone doesn’t create a Federal Indian Reservation.  The detailed process required to create the Federal Indian Reservation never occurred,” Clarke wrote.

Armenta said that Save the Valley LLC’s lawsuit is based “on an intentional misreading” of the 1938 deed to the U.S. Government stating that the property the tribe occupies is deeded for the purpose of an Indian Reservation.

“This was yet another frivolous lawsuit brought on by the local tribal opponents,” Armenta said. “Tribal opponents have continually claimed that the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians is not a Tribe and the Santa Ynez Reservation is not a Reservation. However, significant historical documentation exists to prove otherwise.”

The dismissal marks the second time since 2014 that a lawsuit filed by Save the Valley against the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians has been thrown out. The group filed a suit July 14, 2014 alleging that the tribe had not signed a Williamson Act assumption agreement when purchasing Camp 4, a 1,400-acre parcel of land in Santa Ynez.

A Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge dismissed that suit citing a lack of jurisdiction because of the tribe’s sovereign immunity.

Harold Pierce covers the Santa Ynez Valley as a reporter for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @RoldyPierce