April 21, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Bureau of Indian Affairs Properly Denied Land Transfer Application to Protect Long-Range Interests of Reserve and Prevent Fractionation

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Miami Tribe of Oklahoma v. United States on Tuesday, August 30, 2011.

The Tenth Circuit vacated the district court’s decision and remanded for further proceedings. A member of the petitioner tribe wanted to transfer to Petitioners a portion of his property interest in the Maria Christiana Reserve No. 35, where the tribe has plans to develop gaming facilities. Federal law and restrictions on his fee interest required the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to approve any transfer. Citing concerns regarding fractionation of the land interests in the Reserve as well as the long-range best interests of Reserve landowners, the BIA denied the application to transfer the land. Petitioners challenge that decision.

The Court held that the BIA properly exercised its discretion in denying the application. The BIA’s denial of the land transfer application was a valid exercise of its administrative discretion. It was neither arbitrary nor capricious for the BIA to conclude the partial transfer of the property interest to the tribe was not in his or other Reserve landowners’ long-range best interests and would increase fractionation of the Reserve.

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