(CN) - A federal court had jurisdiction to issue an injunction in a long-running dispute over a family's membership in the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, the 9th Circuit ruled Thursday.
Marcus Alto Sr. and his descendants were enrolled in the San Diego-area band in 1991, but a fellow member challenged their status in 2007, claiming that the patriarch had been adopted by members of the tribe rather than having the required blood relation.
The band voted to disenroll the family, and the assistant secretary of Indian affairs with the Bureau of Indian Affairs affirmed the decision in 2011.
After the Bureau of Indian Affairs shot the family down, the Altos sued the assistant secretary and others, though not the tribe, in San Diego Federal Court. They alleged that the assistant secretary had violated their due-process rights and sought to cancel the disenrollment order.
The tribe attempted to dismiss the action as an allegedly necessary party with sovereign immunity, but the District Court disagreed and found that the issues could be resolved without the tribe.
U.S. District Judge Irma Gonzalez then granted the Altos a preliminary injunction to stop the BIA from disenrolling the family until the case was concluded, and to make sure that the Altos continued to receive the full benefits of tribal membership, including gaming revenues.
After the injunction came down, the assistant secretary sent out a memorandum in which he doubted his own power to "compel the band to comply with all aspects of the orders, exactly as phrased by the court."
Viewing such statements as defying the injunction, the Altos moved unsuccessfully to force the BIA to order the band to pay gaming revenues for the duration of the lawsuit. Meantime, the tribe intervened in the case to ask the District Court to dissolve the injunction for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that it violated principles of self-governance.
A three-judge panel upheld the injunction Thursday, noting that the tribe's governing documents give the BIA final authority over membership rulings.
"The district court properly exercised subject matter jurisdiction over the Altos' claims challenging the agency's final action and correctly concluded that the Band is not a required party to the resolution of those claims," Judge Marsha Berzon wrote for the Pasadena-based appeals panel. "Accordingly, the Band has demonstrated no basis for dissolving the preliminary injunction presently in effect, as articulated in the BIA's Memorandum Order."
In a partial reversal, the appellate court directed Gonzalez to clarify her order on remand.