Rincon Band prevails in jurisdiction dispute over land within reservation

By Valley Center | June 7, 2019

The Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians announced this week that they have won the regulatory jurisdiction over the Donius property located within the Rincon reservation boundaries.  

After a tortuous and expensive ten-year legal battle, winding through several lawsuits filed in tribal, state, and federal courts, a case involving a non-Indian owner of five acres of fee land located within the Rincon Reservation was finally, heard on its merits. 

“We are grateful that the courts have confirmed our jurisdiction over this property,” said Bo Mazzetti, chairman of the Rincon Band.  “It is vital that we protect the groundwater and the underlying basin for the future and well-being of our tribe, neighbors and surrounding communities.  To date, we have had no cooperation or information on what pesticides, chemicals or other contaminants are being used on the property.  It is my hope that we can finally work with Mr. Donius and get past our differences.”

After extensive discovery, and thirteen days of trial wherein the landowner was provided an opportunity to present evidence, and arguments regarding his claims and defenses, Marvin Donius, who owns a mushroom farm on the reservation, lost on the merits.  

Donius’s Mushroom Corporation of America had sued the tribe in an action that goes back to 2009. Donius alleged that the tribe was interfering in his business and challenged the tribe’s jurisdiction over his property. Donius owns five acres that are not part of the reservation, but are contained within its boundaries.

More recently Donius had sought a federal court to prevent the tribe from blocking the entrance to his property. He sought to avoid suing in tribal court, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals eventually ruled that he must first exhaust tribal court remedies before resorting to a federal court. 

According to the tribe, “This case is about the ability of the Rincon Band, a federally-recognized Indian tribe, to take the necessary actions to make certain that activities are not conducted in a manner that could inflict catastrophic environmental consequences.”

Even though the judge imposed a 30-day stay to enforcement of the judgment to give Donius time to produce an operations plan that could be approved by the Rincon Band’s Environmental Director, Donius sought a stay of the Court’s judgment in hopes of preserving the status quo and to continue activities on the property in defiance of the Court’s order.  On May 23, 2019, the judge denied the request for stay, causing Donius to appeal to both the Rincon Court of Appeals and the United States Southern District Court in hopes of maintaining the status quo.

Rincon Band Chairman Bo Mazzetti continued, “The Tribe will continue to oppose Mr. Donius’s attempts to stop the judgment and will take all actions necessary to enforce the Court’s judgment.”

The 30-day stay expired on May 19 and the Band is providing Mr. Donius with an additional 10-day Notice prior to enforcing the court’s judgment.  In open defiance of the Court’s judgment, Mr. Donius has authorized a significant increase in both the amount and scope of activities on the property.  

According to the tribe, “Expert evidence presented at trial showed that such activity increases the risk of wildfires.   In previous wildfires, objects and activities on Mr. Donius’s property exacerbated the harm resulting from the wind-driven fires.  The on-going, present activities on the property also risk contamination of the Tribe’s pristine drinking water sourced from the groundwater underlying the Reservation.”

The Rincon Band says it plans to enforce the court’s order by blocking access to the property.

Article source: Valley Center, Click here to read original article