The paperwork portion of the Florida sports betting lawsuit is complete. The Department of the Interior and the Seminole Tribe of Florida both filed their final reply briefs with the D.C. Court of Appeals Monday.
The Seminole Tribe argued that they should be included in the lawsuit. The federal government tried to rebut claims made by West Flagler Associates in previous filings.
The DOI and the Seminoles want to overturn last November’s U.S. District Court ruling. Last year, Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled that the 2021 Florida gaming compact violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. As a result, she shuttered the briefly launched Florida sports betting market.
Seminole Tribe says they are indispensable to the suit
The only reason the Seminole Tribe is even involved in the appeal is that they aren’t technically involved. But they want to be.
When West Flagler filed lawsuits last year over the ‘hub-and-spoke’ sports betting model, they listed DOI Secretary Deb Haaland as the defendant. Not the Seminole Tribe.
In August 2021, Haaland approved the compact through inaction. Therefore, West Flagler listed her as the defendant and argued she should’ve vetoed the compact.
The tribe filed a motion for limited intervention, but Friedrich denied their request. If the Seminoles are considered an indispensable party, they can file a motion to dismiss the entire case based on their sovereign status. It’s likely a judge would grant the dismissal.
Sovereign immunity reigns supreme according to Seminoles
In their brief, the Seminole Tribe said the district court “committed a fundamental legal error when it misstated and failed to apply the rule in Kickapoo Tribe of Indians v. Babbitt.”
The case set the precedent that sovereign immunity is the most important factor when weighing the four Rule 19(b) factors of required joinder of parties. Additionally, the Seminoles claim that the DOI and West Flagler ignored this part of their request.
Despite having the same goals as the tribe, the DOI argued against Seminole Tribe intervention in a previous filing.
The tribe also claimed that West Flagler created a straw-man argument in their reply brief. The tribe says they never sought a rule to make all compacts unreviewable. They just wanted to be involved in the current case.
They reaffirmed that they are an indispensable party because of their involvement in the compact. According to the Seminole brief, the district court even agreed that they were a required party.
Lastly, they claimed that the DOI did not do a sufficient job in representing tribal interests. The Seminoles argued that the DOI didn’t move for dismissal as they did in other similar cases.
Feds take aim at West Flagler
The DOI used its brief to focus on West Flagler’s rebuttal and the error of the district court ruling. They did not address the Seminole Tribe’s desire to be involved.
The federal government doubled down on its somewhat confusing two-part argument:
- The IGRA allows compacts to address gaming outside of tribal lands
- Therefore, Secretary Haaland was not required to disapprove the compact
This is a counterargument to West Flagler’s claim that IGRA “does not permit a compact to memorialize any agreements between a state and tribe regarding gaming outside Indian lands.”
The DOI cited Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community as precedent for the compact to contain gaming outside Indian land.
DOI says district court made a mistake
Aside from arguing against West Flagler, the DOI reaffirmed that Friedrich erred in her initial ruling.
The feds claim the district court misinterpreted verbiage in the compact. According to the brief, the feds argue Friedrich saw language in the compact that “deem” wagers placed outside Indian land as an attempt by the tribe and state to say that IGRA authorized these wagers.
Instead, they argue Friedrich should interpret that segment as those wagers are authorized by state law. They then cite West Flagler’s concession that the state constitution doesn’t prohibit the expansion of gaming outside tribal land.
One final shot at West Flagler
The feds wrap up their filing by contending there was no alternate basis for Friedrich’s ruling. This is a direct attempt to discredit part of West Flagler’s argument in a prior brief.
West Flagler argued the district court’s judgment could be upheld based on arguments the court didn’t hear. But the DOI contends this is false and rebutted the three arguments used by West Flagler.
First, the DOI argues that the Wire Act doesn’t apply to this case. West Flagler tried to invoke the Wire Act as an alternate means for Friedrich to disapprove the compact.
Secondly, the feds argue West Flagler failed to establish an argument that required Secretary Haaland to disapprove the compact.
Lastly, the DOI says there was no fifth amendment violation.
The DOI, the Seminole Tribe and West Flagler will all be in the same courtroom on Dec. 14 for oral arguments.