Federal court refuses to hear tribal disenrollment appeal

Sixteen people who said their civil rights were violated by being disenrolled from citizenship in the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians had their claim rejected Tuesday by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The prominent, wealthy band runs the Pechanga Resort & Casino near Temecula.

Disenrolled members lose shares in casino profits as well as access to paid health care, life insurance, and other benefits.

At the time of their 2006 dismissal from the tribe, every adult Pechanga member received a per capita benefit of more than $250,000 per year, court papers noted.

The group did not directly challenge the decision by the tribe’s enrollment committee, which was upheld by the Tribal Council.

Instead, they contend their disenrollment was “tantamount to an unlawful detention,” under the Indian Civil Rights Act.

The majority of the three-judge panel disagreed and upheld a lower court’s dismissal of the lawsuit.

“Despite the novelty of this approach, we nonetheless lack subject matter jurisdiction to consider this claim, because the Appellants were not detained,” said the opinion by judges Johnnie B. Rawlinson and N. Randy Smith.

Tuesday’s decision cited a U.S. 2nd Circuit opinion in a similar case. It stated loss of quarterly distributions and other benefits “are simply ‘insufficient’ ” to make a claim of civil rights violations under the Indian Civil Rights Act.

The 16 plaintiffs were among an estimated 90 adults who were disenrolled after tribal officials reviewed citizens who attributed their tribal lineage to Paulina Hunter, who was allotted land on the reservation in its early days in the 1800s.

There are currently about 1,500 Pechanga band citizens.

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