According to a groundbreaking ruling, a Federal Judge has now tossed out a lawsuit brought forth by the Narragansett Indian Tribe that had accused the state of Rhode Island as to have reneged on an agreement to transfer three individual properties to the tribe.
The tribe claims the agreement was to give them the land as compensation for “damage done by the Providence I-95 Viaduct reconstruction project to the remains of an ancient village.”
The suit on behalf of the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office, sued the state Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and two entities whose purpose is to reduce the construction project’s adverse impact on historic land, according to the tribe.
The state, however, says that the tribe was supposed to agree to state criminal and civil laws and jurisdiction on properties, none of which they did.
The state then agreed to transfer the land to the tribe if they agreed by a deadline or else they were going to build the highway regardless.
The Narragansetts have refused to relinquish the tribe’s sovereignty on the land and had asked U.S. District Court to order the state to turn title to the properties over to the tribe.
United States District Court Chief Judge William E. Smith on Monday dismissed the action, finding that the tribe’s claims against the federal government are bogus because the tribe had not waived its sovereign immunity as a federally recognized Indian nation.
Judge Smith quoted court precedent: ”Absent express waiver of sovereign immunity, federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over suits against the United States.”
Smith then dismissed the tribe’s allegations against the state of Rhode Island as well, saying that the state never had to offer them any land, to begin with, but they were being generous and considerate but instead the tribe demanded more and wouldn't agree so Rhode Island was within its rights to build.
He found that the tribe had no legal claim under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 or the Administrative Procedure Act, as the tribe had argued.
The APA only provides for a review of a federal agency action, but does not provide a right to bring legal claims against a state, the judge said.
Likewise, Smith ruled that the Historic Preservation Act does not give the tribe the authority to bring claims against a state.
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