United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division
YSLETA DEL SUR PUEBLO, a federally recognized sovereign Indian tribe, Plaintiff,
CITY OF EL PASO, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. GUADERRAMA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is Defendant City of El Paso's
("City") "Motion for Summary Judgment"
(ECF No. 56) ("City's Motion") and Plaintiff
Ysleta del Sur Pueblo's ("Pueblo") "Motion
for Summary Judgment" (ECF No. 57) ("Pueblo's
Motion"). For the reasons that follow, the Court
GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN
PART the City's Motion.
Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo is a federally recognized Indian
Tribe. In May 2017, the Pueblo brought this
declaratory judgment action, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1331, 1362, and 2201. It seeks judicial
confirmation of the Pueblo's title to 111.73 acres of
real property ("Property") encompassed by what is
described as "the Ysleta Grant"; the Pueblo
alleges that it is the owner of the Property under the 1751
Spanish Land Grant. It also asks the Court to enjoin the City
from claiming any estate, right, title, or interest in or to
29, 2019, the City filed its instant motion for summary
judgment. See City's Mot., ECF No. 56. That same
day, the Pueblo also filed its instant motion for summary
judgment. See Pueblo's Mot., ECF No. 57.
Motion, the City asserts that the Court should grant summary
judgment in its favor because: (1) no dispute of facts exists
regarding the absence of a 1751 Spanish Land Grant confirmed
by a 1825 survey the Mexican government conducted; (2) the
Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction because the 1751
Spanish Land Grant has not been confirmed by Congress; (3)
the Pueblo's claim is barred by the doctrine of laches;
and (4) the State of Texas is a Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 19 required party which cannot be joined, and the
resulting unavoidable prejudice to the State requires
dismissal under Rule 19(b). City's Mot. at 3, 6, 19, 26.
Motion, the Pueblo argues that the Court should grant summary
judgment in its favor because: (1) the Pueblo had official
legal status as a "Pueblo de Indios" under Spanish
colonial law, which meant that Spanish colonial law afforded
the Pueblo's lands full protection as to prohibiting
Spanish settlement on Indian lands, its privatization, and
its alienation or conveyance to non-Indians; and (2) the
Indian Non-Intercourse Act applies to the Property it claims.
Pueblo's Mot. at 2, 10.
preliminary matter, the Court addresses the City's
contention that the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction
to decide the Pueblo's claim on the merits. When
dismissal is sought for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction,
the proper procedural form is a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to
dismiss, not summary judgment. Stanley v. Cent.
Intelligence Agency, 639 F.2d 1146, 1157 (5th Cir.
1981). Although the City filed a motion seeking summary
judgment against the Pueblo, the Court construes the
City's Motion as a motion to dismiss for lack of
subject-matter jurisdiction and a motion for summary judgment
in the alternative. See United States v. One 1988 Dodge
Pickup, 959 F.2d 37, 39 (5th Cir. 1992) ("[I]t is
clear that the proper characterization of the motion for
these purposes is not determined by the label that the motion
bears."); Med. Components, Inc. v. Osiris Med,
Inc., 226 F.Supp.3d 753, 760 (W.D. Tex. 2016)
(construing a motion for summary judgment as a motion to
dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction).
considering a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss with a motion
for summary judgment in the alternative, we must determine if
subject matter jurisdiction is present before considering the
substantive arguments of the summary judgment motion."
Cupit v. United States, 964 F.Supp. 1104, 1106 (W.D.
La. 1997) (citing Stanley, 639 F.2d at 1157). Thus,
the Court will first address subject-matter jurisdiction in
this case and will only consider the merits of both summary
judgment motions if dismissal is unwarranted.
Standard for Dismissal for Lack of Subject-Matter
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only
that power authorized by Constitution and statute ...."
Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Insurance Co., of Am., 511
U.S. 375, 377 (1994). But "[w]ithout jurisdiction!, ]
the court cannot proceed at all in any cause." Steel
Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env., 523 U.S. 83, 94
(1998) (quoting Ex parte McCardle, 7 Wall. 506, 514
(1868)). Federal courts are under a mandatory duty to dismiss
a suit over which it has no jurisdiction. Stanley,
639 F.2d at 1157 (internal citations omitted). A court may
properly dismiss a case for lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction when the court lacks the statutory or
constitutional power to adjudicate the case. Home
Builders Ass'n of Mississippi, Inc. v. City of Madison,
Miss., 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998).
considering a challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, the
district court is 'free to weigh the evidence and resolve
factual disputes in order to satisfy itself that it has the
power to hear the case.'" Flores v. Pompeo,
936 F.3d 273, 276 (5th Cir. 2019) (quoting Krim v.
pcOrder.com, Inc., 402 F.3d 489, 494 (5th Cir. 2005)). A
district court may dispose of a motion to dismiss or lack of
subject matter jurisdiction based "on (1) the complaint
alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts; or
(3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the
court's resolution of disputed facts." Id.
(quoting Robinson v. TCI/US W. Commc'ns Inc.,
117 F.3d 900, 904 (5th Cir. 1997)).
The Pueblo Asserts Federal Question Jurisdiction Under 28
U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1362
Pueblo asserts that the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction
to consider its claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 for federal
question jurisdiction and under 28 U.S.C. § 1362 for
civil lawsuits brought by Indian tribes. Compl. ¶ 6.
Both § 1331 and § 1362 contain identical
"arising under" language. Compare 28
U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have
original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under
the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United
States."") (emphasis added) with
28 U.S.C. § 1362 ("The district courts shall have
original jurisdiction of all civil actions, brought by any
Indian tribe or band with a governing body recognized by the
Secretary of the Interior, wherein the matter in controversy
arises under the Constitution, laws, or treaties
of the United States") (emphasis added). Section
1362 was enacted when § 1331 had a monetary requirement,
similar to that now found in 28 U.S.C. § 1332, and was
intended to permit Indian tribes to proceed in federal court
even when the jurisdictional amount could not be met:
The purpose of the proposed legislation is to provide that
the district courts are to have original jurisdiction of all
civil actions brought by Indian tribes or bands wherein the
matter in controversy arises under the Constitution, laws, or
treaties of the United States. These civil actions would
therefore be permitted without regard to the $10, 000
jurisdictional amount provided in section 1331(a) of title
28, when brought by an Indian tribe or band under the
authority of the new section added by the bill.
H.R. Rep. 89-2040 as reprinted in 1966 U.S.C.C.A.N.
3145, 3146; see also Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y.State v.
Oneida Cty., New York, 414 U.S. 661, 663 (1974)
[hereinafter "Oneida I"] (noting the
same); Ponca Tribe of Indians of Okla. v. Contl Carbon
Co., 439 F.Supp.2d 1171, 1174-75 (W.D. Okla. 2006)
(same). The Supreme Court has also noted that § 1362 may
grant federal jurisdiction over a claim brought by an Indian
tribe where the claim was one which the United States could
have brought on the tribe's behalf. See Moe v.
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Flathead
Reservation, 425 U.S. 463, 474 (1976) ("We think
that the legislative history of § [l]362, though by no
means dispositive, suggests than in certain respects tribes
suing under this section were to be accorded treatment
similar to that of the United States had it sued on their
rate, the statutory language and Supreme Court precedent
indicate that § 1362 does not provide federal court
jurisdiction to a claim merely because it is brought by a
federally recognized Indian tribe. Ponca Tribe, 439
F.Supp.2d at 1174; Charrier v. Bell, 547 F.Supp.
580, 584 (M.D. La. 1982) ("Although the federal
government has long had a special relation to the American
Indian, the Congress has not provided for jurisdiction in the
federal courts merely because an Indian Tribe is a party to
the action."). Indeed, § 1362 will provide a
jurisdictional basis for an Indian tribe's claims only if
they satisfy the "arises under" requirement of
§ 1331. See Mescalero Apache Tribe v. Martinez,
519 F.2d 479, 483 (10th Cir. 1975) ("[Section] 1362 does
not in our view dispense with the necessity of showing the
presence of a federal question.... [I]n order for
jurisdiction to attach under [§] 1362, the matter in
controversy, and we emphasize that' phrase, must itself
arise under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United
States."); Ponca Tribe, 439 F.Supp.2d at 1175.
The Court now turns to whether the Pueblo's claim
satisfies the "arises under" requirement of §
Federal Question Jurisdiction
28 U.S.C. § 1331, federal courts have federal question
jurisdiction over any case that "arises under" the
laws of the United States. Verlinden B. V. v. C. Bank of
Nigeria, 461 U.S. 480, 494 (1983). "A federal
question exists 'only in those cases in which a
well-pleaded complaint establishes that either federal law
creates the cause of action or that the plaintiffs right to
relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial
question of federal law.'" Singh v. Duane Morris
LLP, 538 F.3d 334, 337 (5th Cir. 2008) (quoting
Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Tr.,
463 U.S. 1, 27-28 (1983)). But "[w]hen a federal claim
appears on the face of the complaint, 'dismissal for lack
of subject matter jurisdiction is only proper in the case of
a frivolous or insubstantial claim, i.e., a claim which has
no plausible foundation or which is clearly foreclosed by a
prior Supreme Court decision.'" Young v.
Hosemann, 598 F.3d 184, 188 (5th Cir. 2010) (quoting
Bell v. Health-Mor, 549 F.2d 342, 344 (5th Cir.
Pueblo invokes the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo between the
United States and Mexico after the Mexican War as the basis
for its declaratory judgment suit. Compl. ¶ 6. The
Pueblo pleaded that its asserted right to the Property
derives from the 1751 Spanish Land Grant that is allegedly
"recognized by federal law, and the laws of Spain and
Mexico, and preserved by the United States in the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo." Id. Specifically, the
Pueblo alleges that Article VIII of the Treaty of Guadalupe
Hidalgo guaranteed citizens within the affected areas, which
at the time included the Pueblo, protection of their land
titles upon the transfer of sovereign authority from Mexico
to the United States. Id. ¶ 16. On that basis,
the Pueblo asks the Court to enter declaratory judgment to
confirm that it is and has been the rightful holder of title
to the Property since the 1751 Spanish Land Grant-allegedly
preserved by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo-and to declare
that the City "ha[s] no estate, right, title or interest
in or to the Property." Id. at 6.
motion for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, the City
argues that the Pueblo's allegation that the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo guaranteed the protection of Spanish land
grants "overlooks the requirement of a confirmation or
recognition of title by the United States." City's
Mot. at 8. Further, the City contends that prior Supreme
Court decisions make clear that Spanish and Mexican land
grants that were not validly confirmed by Congress after the
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo are judicially unenforceable-and
thus, foreclosed under federal law. Id. at 8-9;
City's Resp. in Opp. at 13 (ECF No. 58).
due consideration, the Court is of the view that the
Pueblo's claim does not raise a federal question because
of two reasons: (1) the predicate cause of action for the
Pueblo's declaratory judgment suit is based on state law,
not federal law; and (2) the Pueblo's asserted right to
the Property is not a federally derived right and does not
involve a substantial federal issue. Further, even if a
federal claim appears on the face of the Pueblo's
Complaint, established Supreme Court precedent.has foreclosed
the authority of federal courts to determine the validity of
the Pueblo's claim to the land. The Court addresses its
conclusions in that order.
The Pueblo's Predicate Cause of Action for Declaratory
Relief is ...