2017 WL 6551298
Only the Westlaw citation is currently available.
United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma.
Ryan ZINKE, et al., Defendants.
NO. CIV-17-887-HE
Signed 11/13/2017

Attorneys and Law Firms
John P. Racin, Law Office of John P. Racin, Washington, DC, Richard J. Grellner, Law Office of Richard J. Grellner, Oklahoma City, OK, for Plaintiff.
Amanda R. Johnson, Kay D. Sewell, US Attorney’s Office, Oklahoma City, OK, Devon L. McCune, US Dept. of Justice Environ Resources Division, Denver, CO, for Defendants.




In this case, plaintiff Comanche Nation of Oklahoma seeks to prevent the opening of a casino being constructed by the Chickasaw Nation in Jefferson County, Oklahoma. The casino facility being constructed is on lands recently taken into trust by the Secretary of the Interior for the benefit of the Chickasaw Nation. Plaintiff challenges the legality of that decision by the Secretary, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.1 Plaintiff’s complaint also asserts claims against officers of the National Indian Gaming Commission (“NIGC”), seeking to enjoin any action by the NIGC which would further the Chickasaw Nation’s effort to open the casino.

Plaintiff moved for issuance of a preliminary injunction. The court held a hearing on the motion on October 26, 2017. Plaintiff tendered some additional evidentiary submissions, and the court heard argument from counsel. Having fully considered the arguments and the relevant legal standards, the court concludes that the motion for preliminary injunction should be denied.



The background facts are largely undisputed. In June of 2014, the Chickasaw Nation submitted an application asking the Secretary to take approximately 30 acres of land, located near Terral in Jefferson County, into trust for gaming and other purposes. The Chickasaw Nation sought to use the land for a casino which would offer class II and class III gaming. The Terral site is approximately 45 miles from a gaming facility operated by plaintiff.

On January 19, 2017, the Secretary made a final determination to take the Terral site into trust.2 The Secretary’s decision was based on, among other things, a determination that the Chickasaw Nation did not have a reservation, but that the proposed site was within the boundaries of its former reservation. Therefore, according to the Secretary, the land could be taken into trust as an “on-reservation” acquisition under the Indian Reorganization Act (“IRA”), and could be used for gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”).

Plaintiff challenges the Secretary’s determination here, seeking review under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 500 et seq. (“APA”). It also challenges the decision on the basis of non-compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq. (“NEPA”).



The injunctive relief being sought by plaintiff’s motion has changed somewhat since the case and motion were originally filed. The complaint and motion initially focused, in substantial part, on preventing the NIGC from issuing a gaming license or other regulatory approval to the Chickasaw Nation. In light of defendants’ explanation and submissions as to the NIGC’s role, plaintiff has shifted its focus to the propriety of the Secretary taking the property into trust. It challenges the Secretary’s determination, rather than any action or inaction of the NIGC, and now essentially seeks to have the court stop the casino project on the basis that the land acquisition was improper and that gaming on the land is therefore unauthorized.

A preliminary injunction is an “extraordinary remedy” which is never “awarded as of right.” Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, 555 U.S. 7, 24 (2008). A party may be granted a preliminary injunction only when monetary or other traditional remedies are inadequate, and “the right to relief [is] clear and unequivocal.” Schrier v. Univ. of Colo., 427 F.3d 1253, 1258 (10th Cir. 2005). To obtain a preliminary injunction, the moving party must show:
(1) that it has a substantial likelihood of prevailing on the merits; (2) that it will suffer irreparable harm unless the preliminary injunction is issued; (3) that the threatened injury outweighs the harm the preliminary injunction might cause the opposing party; and (4) that the preliminary injunction if issued will not adversely affect the public interest.
Prairie Band of Potawatomi Indians v. Pierce, 253 F.3d 1234, 1246 (10th Cir. 2001); Fed.R.Civ.P. 65. The particular injunction sought here is a disfavored one, as it seeks to alter the status quo by rescinding the land acquisition. See O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal v. Ashcroft, 389 F.3d 973, 975 (10th Cir. 2004) (injunctions that alter the status quo are disfavored). As a result, the plaintiff must show that the preliminary injunction factors “weigh heavily and compellingly in [its] favor.” Id. (quoting SCFC ILC, Inc. v. Visa USA, Inc., 936 F.2d 1096, 1098 (10th Cir. 1991) (overruled on other grounds)).3

Although the parties’ submissions address all factors necessary for a preliminary injunction, the focus at the hearing was on the legality of the Secretary’s decision, which goes to plaintiff’s likelihood of succeeding on the merits. Having considered the various legal questions involved, the court concludes plaintiff is unlikely to prevail on the merits of its claims and that preliminary injunctive relief is not warranted.4


Administrative Procedures Act Claim.
The parties do not dispute that the Secretary’s decision to take the Terral site into trust is one subject to judicial review pursuant to the APA. See McAlpine v. United States, 112 F.3d 1429 (10th Cir. 1997). Further, plaintiff’s standing to challenge the decision is not, in general, disputed. See Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians v. Patchak, 567 U.S. 209 (2012).5 So the question becomes whether the challenged decision of the Secretary was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2); McAlpine, 112 F.3d at 1436.

Plaintiff argues the decision to take the Terral property into trust and the determination that gaming could occur on the property were not in accordance with the law or were otherwise arbitrary and capricious. In particular, the Comanche Nation contends the Secretary’s regulations involved here are inconsistent with a Congressional intent to treat all tribes equally, unfairly benefit tribes in Oklahoma compared to tribes in other states, and arbitrarily depart from prior regulations or practice. None of the arguments are persuasive.

As a threshold matter, all of plaintiff’s claims challenging the applicable regulations appear to be barred by the statute of limitations. All parties appear to concede that a facial challenge to a regulation is subject to a six-year limitations period. See 28 U.S.C. § 2401; Dunn-McCampbell Royalty Interest, Inc. v. Nat’l Park Serv., 112 F.3d 1283, 1287 (5th Cir. 1997) (limitations period for a facial challenge to a regulation begins to run when the agency publishes the regulation in the Federal Register); see also Waltower v. Kaiser, 17 Fed.Appx. 738, 741 (10th Cir. 2001) (discussing the statute of limitations with regards to facial challenges to statutes). Here, the particular regulations plaintiff challenges were promulgated in 1980 and 2008, more than six years ago. The statute of limitations therefore bars a facial challenge to those regulations. Plaintiff seeks to avoid the bar by arguing that its challenge here is an “as applied” challenge, rather than a facial challenge. But that is plainly not so. For example, plaintiff argues that 25 C.F.R. § 292.2 improperly defines “reservation” because it does not include a requirement that the tribe have “governmental jurisdiction” over the former reservation. That is a classic facial challenge—arguing what the law is or should be with respect to all persons. An “as applied” challenge is something different, as it focuses on the “application of that [regulation] to the facts of a plaintiff’s concrete case.” Colo. Right to Life Comm. v. Coffman, 498 F.3d 1137, 1146 (10th Cir. 2007). So if, for example, the Comanche Nation was challenging the determination that the Terral site actually is within the scope of the former Chickasaw reservation, and hence within the regulation’s definition of “reservation,” that would be an “as applied” challenge. That is not what plaintiff seeks to do here. Rather, it seeks to invalidate the regulation to the extent that it deviates from plaintiff’s view of what the law is or ought to be. That is a facial challenge, barred here by the statute of limitations. Plaintiff is thus unlikely to succeed on its claim challenging the regulations.

But even if plaintiff’s APA claim is not barred by the statute of limitations, it is nonetheless unlikely to succeed on the merits. The thrust of plaintiff’s argument is that the regulations promulgated by the Secretary allowing property to be taken into trust for gaming purposes in Oklahoma are deficient in that they do not include a requirement for a showing of “governmental jurisdiction” by the involved tribe over the property being taken into trust.6 For various reasons, the law does not support that conclusion.

Plaintiff focuses principally on the law and regulations which generally permit the Secretary to take land into trust. The statute involved is 25 U.S.C. § 2508, part of the IRA, which provides, in pertinent part, that “The Secretary ... is authorized, in his discretion, to acquire any interest in lands ... within or without existing reservations ... for the purpose of providing land for Indians.” There is no explicit requirement in the statute that the Secretary acquire only lands over which a tribe has “governmental jurisdiction” and, as the “without or without existing reservations” language suggests, there appears to be no limit in that statute as to what land the Secretary could accept. So the question becomes whether the Secretary has appropriately exercised his discretion via the various regulations or acquisition policies he has adopted in implementing his authority under § 2508.

The regulation setting out the general standard is 25 C.F.R. § 151.3, which authorizes the Secretary to take land into trust for an Indian tribe:
(1) When the property is located within the exterior boundaries of the tribe’s reservation or adjacent thereto, or within a tribal consolidation area;
(2) When the tribe already owns an interest in the land; or
(3) When the Secretary determines that the acquisition of the land is necessary to facilitate tribal self-determination, economic development, or Indian housing.
A related regulation, adopted in 1980, defines “reservation” as:
[T]hat area of land over which the tribe is recognized by the United States as having governmental jurisdiction, except that, in the State of Oklahoma ... “Indian reservation” means that area of land constituting the former reservation of the tribe as defined by the Secretary.
25 C. F. R. § 151.2 (emphasis added). The regulation thus permits land to be taken into trust in Oklahoma if the land is part of a tribe’s former reservation.7 Here, there is no dispute that the Terral property is part of either the Chickasaw Nation’s former reservation (if its former reservation has been disestablished) or that it falls within the geographical boundaries of its current reservation (if it still exists). The Terral property therefore, appears to fall squarely within either § 151.2’s general definition of reservation or the “Oklahoma exception” to that definition. Either way, it would be a proper “on-reservation” acquisition.

Plaintiff seeks to avoid this result by arguing that the Chickasaw reservation was never disestablished. It relies on the recent Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Murphy v. Royal, 866 F.3d 1164 (10th Cir. 2017), where the Court concluded that, contrary to what most everyone had assumed for many years, the Creek Reservation has not been disestablished by Congress. Reasoning that both the Creek Nation and the Chickasaw Nation are one of the Five Civilized Tribes, which Congress has often dealt with in the same fashion, plaintiff suggests that the Chickasaw reservation in Oklahoma has similarly not been disestablished and that the Secretary’s reliance on the “Oklahoma exception” to § 151.2 is therefore invalid.

Plaintiff’s argument is unpersuasive for several reasons. First, it probably does not matter—for purposes of this case—whether the reservation was disestablished. If the Chickasaw reservation has been disestablished, then the Secretary’s reliance on the properties’ former reservation status is proper based on § 151.3(1) and the related regulation defining “reservation” to include former reservation lands. If, on the other hand, Murphy’s reasoning ultimately leads to a conclusion that the Chickasaw reservation has not been disestablished, the most plausible consequence of that determination is that the Chickasaw “reservation” would be treated like any other formal reservation, and would hence be within the scope of § 151.3(1).8

Second, it is far from clear that Murphy will lead to any particular result as to the Chickasaw reservation. Even if it ultimately becomes final and binding, it is far from clear that a determination relating to the Creek Nation necessarily applies in the same way to the Chickasaw Nation. See Murphy, 866 F.3d at 1188, (whether there was specific congressional purpose to “disestablish or diminish a particular reservation depends on the language of the act and the circumstances underlying its passage.”)

Plaintiff contends that the disestablishment question is relevant, arguing that if (per Murphy) the Chickasaw reservation still exists, the Secretary misapplied the relevant regulations. It relies on Montana v. United States, 450 U. S. 544 (1981) as the basis for its argument. So far as the court can determine,9 plaintiff’s position is that since the Terral property was fee land held by a non-Indian at the time it was acquired, then the Chickasaw tribe cannot be said to have exercised governmental jurisdiction over it even if the Chickasaw reservation still exists. Again, the court is unpersuaded. First, Montana involved a dispute over whether the state or the Indian tribe had the right to regulate hunting and fishing by non-Indians on reservation land. Montana, 450 U.S. at 549. The question here is not one of state jurisdiction versus tribal jurisdiction, but is, instead, whether the land is in the area of land “over which the tribe is recognized by the United States as having governmental jurisdiction.” 25 C.F.R. § 151.2. Recognition by the United States is the key element, and the court can discern no reason why formal “reservation” status would not qualify as the pertinent “recognition.”10 Further, even if Montana somehow applies here, it recognizes that Indian tribes retain some aspects of civil jurisdiction even over non-Indian fee lands within the reservation. 450 U.S. at 565-66. In any event, plaintiff offers no persuasive explanation for why it would be an abuse of discretion for the Secretary to conclude that reservation status supplies any necessary “governmental jurisdiction.”

In short, plaintiff appears unlikely to succeed on its APA challenge to the land acquisition based on the IRA or the pertinent regulations issued under it.11

The same conclusion follows to the extent that plaintiff bases its challenge on IGRA. IGRA is pertinent here because it limits the lands upon which a tribe may build a gaming facility. Under 25 U.S.C. § 2719, gaming may not be conducted on lands taken into trust by the Secretary after the date of enactment of IGRA (October 17, 1988) unless an enumerated exception applies.12 One of those exceptions, also known as an “Oklahoma exception,” was relied on by the Secretary as to the Terral property. The exception permits gaming on land taken into trust after 1988 if the Indian tribe had no reservation on the date of enactment, the lands are located in Oklahoma, and the land is within the boundaries of the tribe’s former reservation.13 There is no dispute here that the Terral property is within the boundaries of the historical reservation of the Chickasaw tribe. So assuming it is a “former” reservation, the Oklahoma exception plainly applies.

Plaintiff argues the regulation, and in particular the Oklahoma exception, are deficient because the definition of “reservation” does not include a requirement that the tribe have governmental jurisdiction over the property at issue. It suggests the “Oklahoma exception” in § 292.2 puts Oklahoma tribes on a better footing than tribes located outside the state, and therefore invalidates the regulation.14 However, as the Secretary correctly points out, plaintiff is in no position to rely on this argument. Whatever complaint a tribe outside Oklahoma might have about the regulation on that basis, it is clear plaintiff has no such complaint. It is an Oklahoma tribe and a presumed beneficiary of the distinction or exception that it seeks to attack here. So, whether viewed as a “standing” issue or otherwise, plaintiff is not in position to rely on that argument as a basis for its challenge to 25 C.F.R. 292.2 or the Secretary’s determination under it.

Plaintiff also argues the absence of a “governmental jurisdiction” requirement in the regulation is problematic because it is inconsistent with prior determinations of the Secretary.15 It relies on a rule proposed in 2006 which included a jurisdictional element even as to tribes in Oklahoma.16 But that argument is unpersuasive for at least two reasons. First, the proposed rule that plaintiff relies on was just that—proposed. There is no basis for concluding that a regulation which was proposed and thought about years ago, but not adopted, somehow becomes the baseline against which all later regulations should be tested. Second, even if the proposed regulation plaintiff relies on had been adopted, that does not, in and of itself, prove or suggest that a later regulation taking a different tack is therefore arbitrary or capricious.

Finally, to the extent that plaintiff argues against the application of § 292.2’s “Oklahoma exception” on the basis of Murphy—i.e. the Chickasaw reservation was not disestablished and there is therefore no “former” reservation within the meaning of the exception—the argument fails. If the Chickasaw reservation is eventually determined to still be in existence, the Oklahoma exception would not apply but the general exception for existing reservations would. IGRA specifically permits gaming on lands which were, as of 1988, part of the tribe’s reservation.17 The result is that, regardless of whether the Chickasaw reservation is viewed as disestablished or still existing, § 2719 does not invalidate the action taken here by the Secretary.

In sum, IGRA does not provide a basis for challenging the Secretary decision.

The court concludes plaintiff is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its APA claim, based both on the impact of the statute of limitations and on the deficiencies in its substantive arguments.


NEPA Claim.
The motion for preliminary injunction did not even mention plaintiff’s claim under NEPA. NEPA was first mentioned as a basis for preliminary injunction in plaintiff’s reply brief. That circumstance alone is sufficient to deny the motion to the extent that plaintiff now relies on NEPA. However, even considering the evidence accompanying the reply brief, plaintiff’s arguments at the hearing, and its post-hearing submissions, a sufficient basis for issuing an injunction based on the NEPA has not been shown. Apart from general assertions by counsel that the Secretary did not take the necessary “hard look” at environmental compliance, plaintiff offers no evidence which makes a substantial showing of a violation. See Baltimore Gas & Elec. Co. v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 462 U.S. 87, 100 (1983) (Congress intended for agencies to take a “hard look” at the potential environmental of projects).

Plaintiff’s submissions allude to an alleged history of improper decisions by the BIA relating to compliance with environmental requirements in the context of trust acquisitions. The affidavit of a former BIA supervisor alleges the BIA has previously taken properties into trust without requiring the preparation of environmental assessments required by NEPA.18 But it is undisputed that an environmental assessment was prepared as to this trust acquisition, which was considered and approved by the Secretary.19

Plaintiff also suggests the Chickasaw Nation is building bigger sewage lagoons than would be necessary to service a facility of the size referenced in its applications and that some bigger or more impactful activity must therefore be planned. To the extent this argument is directed to the NEPA claim, it fails to show a non-speculative basis for injunctive relief.

Finally, it appears that plaintiff’s NEPA claim is less concerned with environmental impact, as it is ordinarily understood, than it is with the competitive impact of the Chickasaw casino on plaintiff’s own casino operation. Such economic impacts, standing alone, are ordinarily not a basis for claim under the NEPA. See Cure Land, L.L.C. v. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, 833 F.3d 1223, 1235 (10th Cir. 2016). As a result, plaintiff’s evidence of the competitive impact of the project on plaintiff’s operations is insufficient to show a likelihood of success on the NEPA claim.20

Plaintiff’s reliance on the NEPA in connection with this motion appears to have been an afterthought. In any event, plaintiff’s submissions directed to the NEPA do not show a likelihood of success on the claims and fall short of the “clear and unequivocal” showing necessary to the issuance of a preliminary injunction.


Plaintiff has not made the necessary showing of likelihood of success on the merits. As a result, its motion for preliminary injunction [Doc. #13] is DENIED.


All Citations
Slip Copy, 2017 WL 6551298



The Secretary and Department of the Interior are referred to here as “the Secretary.” All claims against the officials of the Department of the Interior and the NIGC are in their official capacities.


The decision was actually made by the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. [Doc. #20-1].


Plaintiff initially urged that a “relaxed” standard should apply to the showing required for likelihood of success on the merits, but now concedes that cases supporting such a standard are inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7 (2008). See N.M. Dept. of Game & Fish v. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 854 F.3d 1236, 1246-47 (10th Cir. 2017).


Having concluded that plaintiff has not shown a likelihood of success on the merits, it is unnecessary to address the parties’ arguments as to other factors.


Patchak involved prudential, rather than Article III standing, but the necessary elements of injury-in-fact, causation, and redressability are present here and the Secretary does not contend otherwise. The Secretary does, however, challenge plaintiff’s standing to raise some of the particular legal arguments it offers as the basis for challenging the Secretary’s decision.


Plaintiff’s brief says “the most important basis for challenge is that the property in Jefferson County was not subject to the governmental jurisdiction of the Chickasaw Nation at the time of acquisition....” [Doc. #13-1] at 4.


Other factors not at issue here must also be considered.


Any other conclusion would put an Oklahoma tribe with a current reservation in a less advantageous position than tribes with reservations outside Oklahoma. That is inconsistent with what plaintiff argues Congressional policy is, and it certainly appears inconsistent with Congress’ interest in protecting Oklahoma tribes, as evidenced by the “exceptions.”


Plaintiff’s discussion of Montana in its brief is very limited—basically little more than a footnote reference.


Any narrower reading seems particularly anomalous in light of Congress’ specific authorization to take into trust both reservation and non-reservation land.


The Secretary’s decision included analysis of a variety of factors considered pursuant to his land acquisition regulations. See [Doc. #20-1]. Only the legal issues referenced above are raised by plaintiff as the basis for review by this court.


See also 25 C.F.R. Part 292, the regulations implementing this section.


Section 2719 provides as follows:
(a) Prohibition on lands acquired in trust by Secretary
Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, gaming regulated by this chapter shall not be conducted on lands acquired by the Secretary in trust for the benefit of an Indian tribe after October 17, 1988, unless—
(2) the Indian tribe has no reservation on October 17, 1988, and—
(A) such lands are located in Oklahoma and—
(i) are within the boundaries of the Indian tribe’s former reservation, as defined by the Secretary, or
(ii) are contiguous to other land held in trust or restricted status by the United States for the Indian tribe in Oklahoma; ....


As noted above, this is plainly a facial challenge to the regulation. It is also notable that while plaintiff cites § 151.2’s requirement of “governmental jurisdiction” to criticize § 292.2, § 151.2 does not include that requirement for tribes falling under the Oklahoma exception. In that sense, § 151.2 and § 292.2 are consistent in their treatment of Oklahoma tribes.


Although plaintiff’s submissions are not clear on the point, it may be arguing that the absence of the requirement also violates some Congressional mandate or preference for equal treatment of Indian tribes. However, as the discussion of similar issues arising under IGRA, infra, suggests, Congress has explicitly adopted an “Oklahoma exception” in certain circumstances, recognizing the unique history of Oklahoma and the circumstances of the Indian tribes located there.


Gaming on Trust Lands Acquired After October 17, 1988, 71 Fed. Reg. 58,769-01 (Oct. 5, 2006).


25 U.S.C. § 2719(a)(1) (“Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, gaming regulated by this chapter shall not be conducted on lands acquired by the Secretary in trust for the benefit of an Indian tribe after October 17, 1988, unless ... such lands are located within or contiguous to the boundaries of the reservation of the Indian tribe on October 17, 1988”).


Affidavit of Steve York [Doc. #26-3].


[Doc. #20-1] at 15: “An Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Terral Site was completed on April 20, 2016. The EA was made available for public comment from March 18 to April 18, 2016.”


Plaintiff’s post-hearing submissions include an affidavit from plaintiff’s Tribal Administrator and former historic preservation officer stating that the Terral site is within lands historically occupied or crossed by the Comanche and that burial sites and tribal artifacts may exist in the area. It also suggests consultation with the Tribe as to federal actions is required by the National Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Whatever may be the potential application of those acts to this situation, the affidavit does not support a conclusion that a violation of the NEPA is shown.