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CRIT Scores Significant Legal Victory in Water Wheel Case
U.S. District Court Upholds Decision Against Water Wheel, Inc., Including Multi-Million Dollar Award of Damages to CRIT For Ongoing Lease Violation
PARKER, Arizona (September 28, 2009) The U.S. District Court late last week awarded a significant legal victory to the Colorado River Indian Tribes in its case against a land lessor who has refused to abide by the terms of its lease.
In the case titled Water Wheel Camp Recreational Area, Inc.; Robert Johnson v. The Honorable Gary LaRance; Jolene Marshall, Judge David Campbell affirmed a ruling by the CRIT Tribal Court to evict Water Wheel and order the company to pay damages to CRIT for non-payment of rent.
The decision validates the Tribal Courts decision, allows the Tribes to move forward with the eviction of Water Wheel, Inc., and allows the Tribes to the collect a multi-million dollar damage award. It also again upheld that CRIT has the full legal right to enforce leases and legal agreements on its lands in California.
This is an important victory for CRIT and a ruling that upholds our Tribal sovereignty, said Tribal Chairman Eldred Enas. It shows that no one who enters into an agreement with CRIT is above the law and protects the integrity of the Tribal court system. CRIT is committed to moving forward with this matter and similar lease enforcement issues on its western boundary.
The Court also ruled that the facts of the case did not support CRIT exercising personal jurisdiction over Johnson.
This case followed from a suit in Tribal Court by CRIT against Water Wheel, Inc., and Robert Johnson for eviction and damages for past due, and holdover rent. Water Wheel had a 32-year lease for 26 acres of riverfront land along the California side of the Colorado River that expired in July 2007.
Water Wheel and Johnson were supposed to surrender the property peaceably and without resort to legal process upon expiration. They did not, and the Tribes filed suit. The Tribal court found in favor of the Tribes and assessed multi-million dollar damages, and the Tribal Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.
Thereafter, Water Wheel and Johnson sought relief in U.S. District Court from the Tribal Court judgment, claiming that the Judge (Gary LaRance) had no power to exercise personal jurisdiction over a nonmember (non-Indian owned) corporation, or a nonmember who acted only as an agent of the corporation.
The U.S. District Courts decision said that The most compelling facts in support of a consensual relationship between Water Wheel and CRIT are Water Wheels 32-year lease of tribal land and its three-year hold-over tenancy on that land. A lease is one of the classic examples of a consensual relationship cited by the Supreme CourtIndeed, it is difficult to think of a more consensual relationship than a nonmembers occupancy of tribal land under a formal written agreement with the tribe.
The court also wrote that In an attempt to overcome the virtually dispositive fact of the lease, Plaintiffs argue that the property does not belong to CRIT, that the lease is not valid, and that the lease is with the United States, not CRITPlaintiffs quite inconsistentlyassert that they are not challenging the Indian title or reservation status of the land. A federal court judgment [has determined] that the property is owned by the United States in trust for the Colorado River Indian Tribes.
CRIT is pursuing damages and eviction of other tenants on the western boundary who have not paid their rents or abided by the terms of their leases. The decision will boost CRITs efforts on this front, and CRIT will proceed with its cases against these lessors in the coming weeks and months.