Crow Tribe of Indians, et al. v. Repsis, et al., No. 21-8050 (10th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
In 1992, the Crow Tribe brought a declaratory action against Wyoming Game and Fish officials to determine whether the 1868 Treaty with the Crows afforded it an unrestricted right to hunt in the Bighorn National Forest. Relying on a line of prior Supreme Court cases interpreting Indian treaties, the federal district court in Wyoming held in Crow Tribe of Indians v. Repsis (Repsis I), 866 F. Supp. 520 (D. Wyo. 1994), that Wyoming’s admission as a state extinguished the Tribe’s treaty hunting rights (the “Statehood Holding”). In Crow Tribe of Indians v. Repsis (Repsis II), 73 F.3d 982 (10th Cir. 1995), the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s Statehood Holding. Alternatively, the Tenth Circuit held that the Bighorn National Forest was “occupied,” so the Tribe’s treaty hunting rights would not have applied to the area in question (the “Occupation Rationale”), and also reasoned that Wyoming could have justified its restrictions on hunting due to its interest in conservation (the “Conservation Necessity Rationale”). In 2019, the Supreme Court decided Herrera v. Wyoming, 139 S. Ct. 1686 (2019), in response to Wyoming’s attempts to prosecute a Tribe member for hunting in Bighorn National Forest. Critically, the Court held that the Tribe’s treaty rights had not been extinguished by Wyoming’s admittance as a state and that Bighorn National Forest was not categorically “occupied.” On remand, Wyoming continued its efforts to prosecute the Tribe’s member, arguing in part that the defendant could not assert a treaty right to hunt in Bighorn National Forest because Repsis II continued to bind the Tribe and its members through the doctrine of issue preclusion. The Tribe moved for relief from Repsis II under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). But the district court denied the Tribe’s motion, holding that it lacked the power to grant relief because the Tenth Circuit relied on alternative grounds for affirmance (the Occupation and Conservation Necessity Rationales) that the district court had not considered in Repsis I. The Tribe appealed, arguing that the district court legally erred when it held that it lacked the power to review the Tribe’s Rule 60(b) motion. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court abused its discretion when it held that it lacked the authority to review the Tribe’s motion for post-judgment relief. The matter was remanded again for further proceedings.