Case 94

Ringsred v. City of Duluth, 828 F.2d 1305 (8th Cir. 1987).

The city of Duluth and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa proposed the construction of a parking garage on land owned by the city which would abut a bingo facility operated by the tribe and the city on Indian reservation land. A citizen brought suit against the city, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and the Department of the Interior, alleging that the parking garage could not be constructed until defendants considered the project's effects on the environment and on adjacent historic properties.

Federal involvement in this case was limited to two factors. First, the Federal Government held in trust the building and land where the bingo facility was located. Second, the Secretary of the Interior had approved certain agreements made among the tribe, a commission composed of tribe members, and city representatives, including a contract concerning the adjacent parking garage, even though the structure was financed by the city and was not part of the land held in trust.

Before the Federal Government took the building in trust, the Secretary of the Interior had considered the environmental effects of the proposed bingo facility by issuing an environmental assessment (EA) in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The EA did not, however, consider the effects of the parking garage. Plaintiff alleged that the parking garage should have been considered since it was part of a major Federal action and, even if it were not, it was a secondary effect of the Secretary's actions with respect to the bingo facility. Plaintiff also argued that the Secretary failed to consider the adverse environmental effects of the garage as required by NEPA.

In addressing plaintiff's first argument, the court found the Secretary's actions relating to the parking garage to be so incidental that they did not constitute a part of a major Federal action. The court reasoned that the city could construct the garage without Federal approval or assistance. The court found that the Secretary's approval of contracts relating to the parking garage project pursuant to 25 U.S.C. § 81 was not significant enough to establish Federal action.

An affidavit from the BIA official who reviewed the project stated that BIA gave its approval even though its approval was unnecessary. Further, the court observed that the Secretary had no control over the construction of the garage, provided no financial assistance or license, received no revenue from the project, had no input in its design or construction, and did not own the property where the garage would be constructed.

The court also rejected plaintiff's argument that the parking garage was a secondary or indirect effect of the action involving the bingo facility. Because the court found that the parking garage project was non-Federal and only in the proposal stage when the Interior Department prepared the EA, the court concluded that the Secretary was not required to "speculate as to the environmental effects of privately proposed developments that are outside the control of the federal government." 828 F.2d at 1309. Thus, the court found that the Secretary was not required to consider the effects of the parking garage.

In addressing plaintiff's final NEPA claim, that the impact of the proposed parking garage constituted an adverse environmental effect, the court stated that this claim presupposed an obligation on the part of the Secretary to file an environmental impact statement (EIS). According to the court, the Secretary reasonably concluded that there was no major Federal action significantly affecting the human environment and, therefore, an EIS was not required.

With respect to the NHPA claim, the court noted that the parties in this case treated "NHPA's 'undertaking' requirement as essentially coterminous with NEPA's 'major Federal actions' requirement." Id. Without questioning this stipulation, the court thus applied the same analysis in the NHPA claim as it did in the NEPA claims, finding that the parking ramp did not constitute an undertaking and, therefore, fell beyond the scope of NHPA.

The court of appeals also rejected plaintiff's argument that the gambling was in violation of Minnesota State law regulating, but not prohibiting, gambling. Citing United States Supreme Court precedent in California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, 480 U.S. 202 (1987), the court explained that a State's regulatory, as opposed to prohibitory, gambling laws do not apply to gambling facilities located on Indian reservations. 828 F.2d at 1309.

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