BOSTON — Arguments over dismissing parts of the federal lawsuit brought by East Taunton neighbors against the U.S. Department of the Interior are on hold and, instead, a federal judge will narrow his focus to one key issue that paved the way for a Mashpee Wampanoag casino.
On July 11, U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young will consider dueling summary judgment motions having to do with how the tribe’s land application was approved given a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, known as the Carcieri decision. In that ruling, the nation’s highest court called into question the Interior Department's ability to take land in trust for tribes recognized after 1934, the year of the Indian Reorganization Act.
The Mashpee tribe was federally recognized in 2007.
The court approved the stipulation before yesterday’s motion hearing in Boston, so the session was put on hold, said David Tennant, an attorney for the East Taunton plaintiffs.
“We’re dealing with the Carcieri issue as a standalone,” he said. “Everything else is in hibernation.”
Earlier this month, Young decided not to hear arguments for an injunction sought by the neighbors and instead said he would put the trial on the fast track. He had scheduled yesterday’s motion hearing and a July 11 trial. Instead that July 11 date will now be used for the cross motions for summary judgment.
Each side must file motions July 7 and will be able to make oral arguments July 11, Tennant said.
The suit alleges that the Interior Department circumvented Carcieri to approve the tribe’s land application by using a definition of “Indian” and “reservation” that doesn’t fit the Mashpee tribe.
“The Mashpees did not meet their burden to prove that they were tribally organized and exercised tribal jurisdiction over their lands and people in 1934, much less that they were recognized by the federal government for doing so and fell under federal jurisdiction in 1934,” the suit states.
Interior’s record of decision points to the tribe’s historic ties to both Mashpee and Taunton and finds that the tribe members meet the second definition of “Indian” — descendants of a recognized Indian tribe — and that the tribe’s “continued control and occupation” of Mashpee as of 1934 constitutes a reservation.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is not a party to the suit because it targets the Interior Department’s decision. Still, the tribe has a keen interest in the outcome.
In September, the Interior Department agreed to take land in trust in Taunton and Mashpee for the tribe’s initial reservation. The tribe has begun construction of First Light Resort & Casino in Taunton and has targeted next summer to open phase one of the Indian casino.
Plans for the casino, which will cost an estimated $600 million to build, include three hotels, a gaming room with 3,000 slot machines, 150 table games and 40 poker tables. The first phase is expected to feature a gambling floor with about 1,900 slot machines, 60 table games, and some restaurants.