Sierra Club v. Trump Decision Stalls Border Wall Construction, May Provide Improved Basis for Tribes to Challenge Administrative Actions


Theodore Griswold | Partner |

A panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a District Court’s judgment enjoining the Department of Defense’s use of Trump Administration ordered budgetary transfers to fund construction of a Border Wall on the southern border of the United States in California, New Mexico, and Arizona, including across the Tohono O’odham Nation, Cocopah, and Quechan lands.

The decision found that Section 8005 and Section 9002 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2019 (“Section 8005”) did not and could not authorize the budgetary transfers to fund construction of the wall at the direction of the Executive Branch (Trump Administration). The panel held that the Executive Branch lacked independent constitutional authority to authorize the transfer of funds. The panel noted that the Appropriations Clause of the U.S. Constitution exclusively grants the power of the purse to Congress. The panel further held that the transfer of funds violated the Appropriations Clause, and therefore was unlawful and unconstitutional. In 2018, Congress refused to fund construction of the Border Wall, which led to the Trump Administration attempt to unilaterally divert appropriations through section 8005.

The construction of the Border Wall had been proceeding using the 8005 funds (which should now be halted), and relying on an administrative waiver to avoid the application of 28 federal environmental or cultural protection statutes from applying to the use of the funds. As a result of the administrative waivers, the project was able proceed without a requirement to investigate and mitigate environmental and cultural impacts caused by the wall construction. Ironically, this made it easier for the Sierra Club to makes its constitutional claim, as the project would self-evidently cause environmental, cultural and recreational harm. If the plaintiff’s in the case could prove standing based upon harm caused by environmental, cultural and recreational harm (as found in this decision), they had standing to sue under the Appropriations Clause.

This can be an important avenue for Tribal Governments and communities to use in challenging the wall construction across their lands and other Administrative actions that use waivers to circumvent required consultation and environmental review.

As of this publication, there has been no reaction to the case by the Department of Homeland Security or the Trump Administration. Concurrent with the Sierra Club decision, the Circuit Court filed an opinion in the companion case, State of California, et al. v. Trump, et al., Nos. 19-16299 and 19-16336, slip op. at 37 (9th Cir. filed June 26, 2020), in which it also held that Section 8005 did not authorize the transfer of funds at issue because “the border wall was not an unforeseen military requirement,” and “funding for the wall had been denied by Congress” and concluded that Section 8005 did not authorize the transfer of funds.

Procopio_Griswold_Theodore_Bio PhotoTed Griswold leads Procopio’s Real Estate and Environmental Team, which includes the Native American Law Practice Group. He is the primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at and 619.515.3277.

The California Consumer Privacy Act’s Applicability to Tribes and Tribal Gaming Enterprises

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By: Racheal M. White Hawk | Associate |
Elaine F. Harwell | Senior Counsel |
Theodore Griswold | Partner |

The California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”) is in effect as of January 1, 2020, with consumers being able to make CCPA-related requests to covered businesses. But what does this law mean for tribes in California? Are tribes required to comply with the CCPA? If not, should tribes enact their own privacy laws to promote consumer confidence and look to the CCPA for guidance?


A. General Requirements of the CCPA

The CCPA (California Civil Code §§ 1798.100 to 1798.199) is currently the most comprehensive privacy legislation in the United States, with extensive new compliance requirements and liabilities. In brief, the CCPA grants California residents new rights with respect to the collection of their personal information, including, among other things, the right to be forgotten (deletion of information), the right to opt-out of the sale of their personal information, and the right to know what information a business collects about them.

The CCPA applies generally to for-profit businesses around the world. A “business” under the CCPA is defined as a for-profit “sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company, corporation, association, or other legal entity.” Cal. Civ. Code § 1798.140. The business must either collect California consumers’ personal information or have such information collected on its behalf, and must determine the purpose and means of processing such information.

Governments generally do not operate for a profit; thus, tribal governments likely do not meet this definition. However, tribal businesses, such as gaming enterprises, may meet this broad definition. Federal circuit courts have held that tribal gaming enterprises are more akin to commercial businesses than governments, albeit in the National Labor Relations Act context. See, e.g., Casino Pauma v. NLRB, 888 F.3d 1066, 1077 (9th Cir. 2018). These courts have so held even though the purpose of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”) is to promote strong tribal governments, economic development, and self-sufficiency, and even though IGRA requires that gaming revenue be used for those purposes. See NLRB v. Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Tribal Gov’t, 788 F.3d 537, 553 (6th Cir. 2015). As Justice Sotomayor wrote in her concurring opinion in Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community, “tribal gaming operations cannot be understood as mere profit-making ventures that are wholly separate from the Tribes’ core governmental functions” because one of the main goals of IGRA is to “render Tribes more self-sufficient, and better positioned to fund their own sovereign functions.” 572 U.S. 782, 810 (2014) (Sotomayor, J., concurring). Nonetheless, California courts may hold that tribal gaming enterprises are “businesses” under the CCPA given the holding in Casino Pauma by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The CCPA also sets threshold requirements for its application, i.e., it will apply to for-profit businesses only if they exceed one of the following thresholds:

  • earn annual gross revenues of $25 million or more;
  • annually buy, sell, receive, or share for commercial purposes the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers, households, or devices; or
  • derive 50 percent or more of their annual revenues from selling consumers’ personal information.

Tribal enterprises should consider whether they meet these thresholds. If a tribal enterprise does not meet any of these three thresholds, the CCPA does not apply.

The term “consumer” is broadly defined under the CCPA to include any California resident. See Cal. Civ. Code § 1798.140(g) (defining “consumer” as any “natural person who is a California resident”). Consumer does not include an employee to the extent the employee’s personal information is collected and used only by the business in the employment context, but this employee exemption will sunset after one year.

A consumer’s “personal information” is broadly defined to include information that identifies, relates to, describes, or could reasonably be linked to a particular consumer or household. Personal information includes, but is not limited to, identifiers such as a person’s real name, mailing address, IP address, email address, biometric information, products/services purchased, geolocation, education and so forth (see here for a full list of personal information). Specifically excluded from the definition of “personal information” is any information publicly available, meaning any information that is lawfully made available from state, federal, or local government records. But “publicly available” does not include biometric information collected by a business about a consumer without the consumer’s knowledge.

B. Enforcement of the CCPA

Under the CCPA, the California Attorney General may bring civil actions for injunctions or civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation under the statute and up to $7,500 for any intentional violation. A business is in violation of the statute if it fails to cure alleged noncompliance within 30 days after notification of the violation.

The CCPA also includes a limited private right of action for consumers for violations of the statute’s data security requirements. Under the CCPA, businesses have a “duty to implement and maintain reasonable security procedures and practices.” Specifically, a consumer can institute a civil action if nonencrypted or nonredacted personal information is subject to unauthorized access, exfiltration, theft, or disclosure as a result of a business’s failure to maintain reasonable security procedures. Personal information for purposes of this private right of action is defined under California’s data breach notification statute. See Cal. Civil Code § 1798.81.5(d)(1).


A. Tribal Sovereign Immunity

As a general rule, the doctrine of sovereign immunity protects tribes from unconsented suit for governmental and commercial activities both on- and off-reservation, unless Congress has clearly abrogated, or the tribe has expressly waived, sovereign immunity. Tribal entities that are “arms of the tribe” are also protected by sovereign immunity as are tribal officials and employees acting in their official capacities. The CCPA is enforced through a limited private right of action by individual consumers for data security breaches and through civil injunctions and penalties by the California Attorney General. However, tribes and tribal entities, officials, and employees would be subject to such civil actions only if Congress has abrogated tribal sovereign immunity or the tribal entity has waived sovereign immunity. This brings us to Public Law 280.

B. Public Law 280 and Tribal Activities On-Reservation

Public Law 83-280 (“Public Law 280”) is a federal law that was enacted in 1953. Public Law 280 removes federal jurisdiction over Indian country crimes and provides certain states with such jurisdiction. California is a Public Law 280 state, meaning that California has jurisdiction over offenses by or against Indians within Indian country. However, Public Law 280 does not provide California with general regulatory power in Indian country. California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, 480 U.S. 202, 208 (1987).

Determining whether a law is criminal/prohibitory (and therefore applicable in Indian country) or whether it is civil/regulatory (and therefore not applicable in Indian country) can be difficult. Courts typically look at whether the state prohibits the conduct or merely regulates it. However, even if a law provides for criminal punishment, the law is not necessarily criminal/prohibitory in nature. Id. at 211 (“[T]hat an otherwise regulatory law is enforceable by criminal as well as civil means does not necessarily convert it into a criminal law within the meaning of [Public Law 280].”); Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians v. WCAB, 60 Cal. App. 4th 1340, 1353 (1998) (finding California’s workers’ compensation laws to be civil/regulatory even though violation of such laws constituted a misdemeanor).

If the state law does not prohibit the activity altogether, it is likely not criminal/prohibitory in nature. See, e.g., Cabazon, 480 U.S. at 211 (“California regulates rather than prohibits gambling in general and bingo in particular.”); Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians, 60 Cal. App. 4th at 1353 (holding California workers’ compensation laws inapplicable to tribes, reasoning “California does not prohibit industrial injuries; it regulates them”).

Courts also consider whether the tribal actions threaten a state public interest at issue; however, having a strong state interest does not mean the law is automatically criminal/prohibitory, especially if there are strong federal and tribal interests at stake. For instance, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that California’s interest in preventing the infiltration of organized crime in gaming is not a sufficient state interest to override compelling federal and tribal interests supporting gaming. See Cabazon, 480 U.S. at 221–22. Similarly, the California Court of Appeal has held that workers’ compensation laws do not apply in Indian country under Public Law 280, despite the “strong state interest in ensuring certain and reasonable compensation for workers injured in the course and scope of their employment.” Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians, 60 Cal. App. 4th at 1352.

In determining whether state laws apply in Indian country, courts also consider whether the tribe itself regulates the activity at issue. Id. at 1353–55 (citing cases and noting that tribe provided its own workers’ compensation insurance in determining that California workers’ compensation laws do not apply in Indian country).

Here, the CCPA is likely more civil/regulatory than criminal/prohibitory, because it regulates the way in which businesses collect and store personal information; the CCPA does not prohibit businesses from collecting such information altogether.

C. Tribal Activities Off-Reservation

Non-discriminatory state law generally applies to Indians engaging in off-reservation activities. See Mescalero Apache Tribe v. Jones, 411 U.S. 145, 148–49 (1973). As mentioned above, sovereign immunity generally protects tribes, the arms of tribes, and tribal officials and employees acting in their official capacities. However, tribal officials or employees could be subject to suit for off-reservation conduct that violates the CCPA. See Lewis v. Clarke, 137 S. Ct. 1285, 1288, 1291 (2017); see also Bay Mills Indian Cmty, 572 U.S. at 796.

The Ninth Circuit has shed some light on when online activities are considered on or off Indian lands, albeit in the internet gaming context. The Ninth Circuit has held that if a player places a bet while physically located off Indian lands the underlying gaming is not subject to IGRA even if the server accepting the bet is located on Indian lands. See California v. Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, 898 F.3d 960 (9th Cir. 2018).

Regarding the CCPA, online actions that could implicate the CCPA (provided the tribal gaming enterprise meets the threshold requirements discussed above) include a customer signing up on a tribal casino’s website to receive promotional offers or booking a hotel room while the customer is physically located off-reservation and providing “personal information” such as the person’s real name, mailing address, or email address. However, the customer would likely need to exhaust tribal court remedies, as discussed below, before initiating a lawsuit in state or federal court against the tribal gaming enterprise.

D. Service of Process and Exhaustion of Tribal Court Remedies

Service of process under state authority is generally ineffective when serving Indians on Indian lands for conduct that occurred in Indian country. See COHEN’S HANDBOOK OF FEDERAL INDIAN LAW § 7.03[1][c], at 609 (Nell Jessup Newton ed., 2012) (citing cases). Thus, a California state court lawsuit served on a tribe or a tribal entity, official, or employee that does not comply with applicable tribal law will typically be deemed invalid if served on Indian lands for conduct that occurred there.

Plaintiffs must also generally exhaust their tribal court remedies before litigating claims against tribes or tribal entities, officials, or employees in state or federal court. See Wilson v. Horton’s Towing, 906 F.3d 773, 777–78 (9th Cir. 2018). To determine whether a plaintiff must exhaust tribal court remedies, the Ninth Circuit reviews whether the plaintiff’s claims bear a direct relationship to tribal lands and whether the events that form the basis of the plaintiff’s claims occurred or were initiated on tribal territory. Id. at 779. Exhaustion of tribal court remedies is required when the plaintiff’s claims are directly tied to events that occurred on Indian lands. Id. If the events did not occur on Indian lands, the court reviews whether (i) there was a consensual relationship between the plaintiff and the tribe or (ii) the plaintiff’s conduct threatens or has a direct effect on the political integrity, economic security, or health or welfare of the tribe. Id. If either of those two conditions is met, tribal court exhaustion might be required. Id.

E. Federal Law

Momentum is increasing nationally for cybersecurity protection. Approximately fourteen states are considering enacting or have enacted privacy and/or cybersecurity laws similar to the CCPA, and a few federal bills have been introduced in Congress. Although the federal government does not yet have an overarching privacy law, some federal departments, such as the Department of Defense, already have cybersecurity rules that contractors must follow. Tribes that contract with such federal government entities may need to follow such rules already.

Nonetheless, a federal law may be passed in the near future that could preempt the CCPA and be similar or stricter than the CCPA. If the federal law is one of general applicability and is silent as to whether it applies to tribes, the courts will likely be left to determine whether the statute applies. Relevant to California tribes, the Ninth Circuit has held that federal statutes of general applicability that are silent as to their applicability to tribes do not apply if “(1) the law touches exclusive rights of self-governance in purely intramural matters; (2) the application of the law to the tribe would abrogate rights guaranteed by Indian treaties; or (3) there is proof by legislative history or some other means that Congress intended the law not to apply to Indians on their reservations.” Casino Pauma, 888 F.3d at 1076 (cleaned up).

Under the first Casino Pauma factor, applying the CCPA to tribal governmental operations (for instance, the provision of governmental services to tribal members) would likely touch exclusive rights of self-governance in purely intramural affairs. Tribal casinos, however, may have more difficulty arguing that this factor applies given the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in Casino Pauma. There, the court held that because the casino was not acting in its role as a provider of governmental services, but instead was “in virtually every respect a normal commercial enterprise” and employed mostly non-Indians, the casino’s operation free from federal labor law was neither purely intramural nor essential to self-government. Id. at 1077 (cleaned up).

Whether the second Casino Pauma factor would apply will depend upon whether the tribe at issue has a treaty on point. And whether the third Casino Pauma factor would apply will depend on the specific legislative history and or context of the cybersecurity statute that is ultimately enacted.

Overall, although the federal government has not yet enacted a statute regarding cybersecurity, the Ninth Circuit Casino Pauma case may govern the applicability of the law to tribes in California if the statute is one of general applicability and is silent regarding its application to tribes. Under Casino Pauma, such a federal law would apply unless it meets one of the Casino Pauma factors discussed above. Nonetheless, federal agencies may already require tribal contractors to comply with their cybersecurity rules.


Whether the CCPA applies to tribal businesses is an unresolved question. The law is still evolving, including final regulations due from the Attorney General in 2020, and the courts have not had an opportunity to interpret the law. However, federal law is very likely heading in a direction similar to the CCPA, and tribal officials or employees may be subject to suit under the CCPA for off-reservation activities that violate the CCPA. See Lewis, 137 S. Ct. at 1288, 1291; see also Bay Mills Indian Cmty, 572 U.S. at 796. As such, tribal businesses should consider complying with the CCPA.

Regardless of whether tribal businesses determine that the CCPA applies to them, they should consider doing at least five things now: (1) determining what data (including personal information and sensitive or confidential information) they are collecting, what they are doing with the data (including who they are sharing the data with), and where the data reside; (2) adopting and enacting tribal cybersecurity policies, procedures, and/or laws for the handling of consumer information; (3) providing tribal court remedies for alleged violations of consumer privacy; (4) purchasing insurance coverage for cybersecurity issues; (5) creating policies, procedures, and/or laws regarding how to respond to consumer requests under the CCPA, including for responding to consumer requests for information, subpoenas for information and lawsuits (whether the response is an objection to the CCPA’s applicability or whether the tribe decides to comply with the CCPA). Procopio will continue to follow the CCPA and other privacy and cybersecurity law developments, both at the state and federal levels.

Procopio_White_Hawk_RachealRacheal M. White Hawk (Rosebud Sioux Tribe) is a federal Indian law attorney with Procopio’s Native American Law Practice Group. Connect with Racheal at and 619.906.5654.


Procopio_Harwell_Elaine_Bio Photo ColorElaine F. Harwell is a senior counsel in Procopio’s Privacy and Cybersecurity Practice Group and a Certified Information Privacy Professional/United States (CIPP/US) through the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP). Connect with Elaine at and 619.906.5780.


Procopio_Griswold_Theodore_Bio PhotoTed Griswold leads Procopio’s Real Estate and Environmental Team, which includes the Native American Law Practice Group. He is the primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at and 619.515.3277.

Ninth Circuit Rules States Can Tax Non-Tribal Lessees on Reservations

shutterstock_659041903By: Karli Sultzbaugh | Associate |
Theodore J. Griswold | Partner |

A partial panel of the Ninth Circuit recently ruled through a memorandum of decision in Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Riverside County that the County can tax the possessory interest of non-tribal lessees on tribal trust land, upholding the June 2017 federal district court ruling. The Ninth Circuit panel reasoned that the federal district decision was consistent with a 1971 ruling on the same issue (Agua Caliente Band of Mission Indians v. County of Riverside, 442 F.2d 1184 (9th Cir. 1971)). However, the past 47 years have added much greater complexity to the matter with multiple decisions regarding a possessory interest tax. On March 6, 2019, the full Ninth Circuit declined to rehear the case in front of the entire panel.

The main question in the recent case was whether the Court was obligated to use the balancing test developed in White Mountain Apache v. Bracker, 448 U.S. 136 (1980), and if so, had that test changed the Court’s interpretation of the tax. The short answer, according to the Court, is no. This decision was designated unpublishable and thus cannot be used as precedent, but it can still be used as persuasive authority in courts in the Ninth Circuit.

Agua Caliente argued that the County’s possessory interest tax (PIT) on non-Indian lessees of tribal trust lands prevented the Tribe from being able to collect on its own PIT, losing out on potential revenue of over $20 million per year. The Tribe also argued that the PIT violated federal law that precludes state taxation of tribal lands taken into trust (see 25 U.S.C. §465). The County argued that its tax was valid because the funds collected from the PIT are used to provide services that could reach the leased lands such as water, law enforcement, etc. However, the district court had noted that the County does not keep track of the amount or use of the funds that come from these lessees which could show that the services were actually provided to the lessees. Rather, the funds go directly into the general fund which is distributed across the county, not specifically to services on the leased lands. Furthermore, the district court and the Ninth Circuit both ignored the fact that Agua Caliente has Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with local governments to provide such services on the checkerboard reservation lands, which already include payments to the governments for these services.

In regards to § 465, which is part of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA), the Ninth Circuit strangely decided that this section does not apply to Agua Caliente because its reservation was created in 1876, long before the IRA. This is an incorrect way to apply the IRA, as it would exclude many trust lands (i.e. reservations) that were created prior to 1934. Reservation land, no matter when it was taken into trust by the federal government, is not subject to state taxation relating to the property itself.[1] Thus, the IRA is not intended to rid reservations of the taxation exemption since they cannot be said to have been taken into trust “pursuant to” the IRA, but rather the IRA intends to extend this protection to lands taken into trust in the future that may or may not be considered “reservation” land. Furthermore, regulations adopted by the BIA clearly state that the leasehold or possessory interest of leases approved by the BIA are not subject to state or local fees or taxation (25 C.F.R. § 162.017). The Court also claims that even if § 465 applied, the PIT is valid because it is a tax on the “full cash value” of the lease rather than on the property itself. However, this position conflicts with an Eleventh Circuit case which analyzed a similar tax in Florida on the Seminole reservation (Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Stranburg, 799 F.3d 1324 (11th Cir. 2015)). The Eleventh Circuit found § 465 expressly precludes taxes on interests associated with land ownership, including leasehold interests.

Furthermore, the Ninth Circuit entertained no Bracker balancing analysis whatsoever. It simply declared the Court was bound by the 1971 ruling and did not find that rulings to be inconsistent with Bracker. However, Bracker, a U.S. Supreme Court case, is binding precedent here, necessitating an analysis of balancing the federal, state, and tribal interests at play in accordance with the test. The Ninth Circuit concurring opinion briefly discussed the test but still discounted the tribe’s interest in levying a tax and the federal exclusive interest in regulating leases of Tribal lands. In the Seminole case, the Eleventh Circuit came to the opposite conclusion with similar facts. It focused on the federal government’s very strong interest in regulating the leasing of Tribal lands. The federal government has exclusive control over such leases, but the Ninth Circuit did not consider this interest. Furthermore, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that a state’s interest in raising revenue is not meaningful unless it has a direct connection to the taxed activity. Riverside County is unable to connect the use of these taxes to actual activity of the non-Indian tribal lessees; rather the PIT benefits county residents in general.

This case may affect tribes located in the Ninth Circuit states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington) who lease tribal land to non-Indian businesses or individuals. Double taxation is unattractive to lessees and developers, so tribes that charge their own PIT (or wish to start) may risk losing business and revenue if the local government decides to charge a PIT as well. Tribes should stay alert as to whether the Tribal party appeals this matter to the Supreme Court, and if such review is granted.

Another Ninth Circuit recent decision, Confederated Chehalis Reservation v. Thurston County Board of Equalization, analyzed the BIA regulations and described them as clarifying and confirming existing law under § 465. The Court found that the state of Washington could not tax permanent improvements on tribal trust lands. This analysis seems to be in conflict with the Agua Caliente case analyzing the same statute.

Karli Sultzbaugh is an Associate with Procopio’s Native American Law practice group and a member of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians. She is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. Connect with Karli at and 619.906.5665.

Ted Griswold is head of Procopio’s Native American Law practice group and is the primary editor for the Blogging Circle.  Connect with Ted at and 619.515.3277.

[1] See, e.g., Mescalero Apache Tribe v. Jones, 411 U.S. 145, 148 (1973): “[I]n the special area of state taxation, absent cession of jurisdiction or other federal statutes permitting it, there has been no satisfactory authority for taxing Indian reservation lands or Indian income from activities carried on within the boundaries of the reservation, and McClanahan … lays to rest any doubt in this respect by holding that such taxation is not permissible absent congressional consent;” see also, “State laws generally are not applicable to tribal Indians on an Indian reservation except where Congress has expressly provided that State laws shall apply. It follows that Indians and Indian property on an Indian reservation are not subject to State taxation except by virtue of express authority conferred upon the State by act of Congress.” U.S. DEPT. OF THE INTERIOR, FEDERAL INDIAN LAW 845 (1958).