News & Insights

Dykema Helps Secure Win for Michigan Homeowners and Business Associations in Indian Tribe Lawsuit

August 22, 2019

Dykema, a leading national law firm, represented the Emmet County Lakeshore Association and the Protection of Rights Alliance (PORA) in the U.S. Federal District Court for the Western District of Michigan’s dismissal of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians v. Whitmer case.

The Court ruled there is no basis for the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians’ (“Tribe”) claim that an 1855 treaty between the Tribe’s predecessors and the United States established a permanent Indian reservation in northern Michigan.

In 2015, the Tribe filed a lawsuit against the state of Michigan claiming the 1855 Treaty of Detroit established an Indian reservation consisting of approximately 337 square miles of land in Emmet and Charlevoix counties. The Tribe asked the federal court to enjoin local and state governments from exercising jurisdiction over the Tribe and all its members in the claimed reservation. Numerous cities, counties, and townships joined the lawsuit as intervening defendants, along with two associations comprised of homeowners and local businesses, represented by Dykema.

In March 2019, the defendants filed motions for summary judgment and the Tribe filed additional motions aimed at dismissing the defendants’ defenses. After two days of oral arguments, Judge Paul Maloney of the U.S. Federal District Court for the Western District of Michigan held that the 1855 treaty did not establish an extant Indian reservation, but instead allowed individual Indians to hold title of selected 40 or 80 acres of land.

The case was dismissed August 15, 2019, although the Tribe can appeal.

“We are pleased with the Court’s decision and the stability it starts to return to homeowners in the area and the local business community,” said R. Lance Boldrey, Dykema Member representing the Emmet County Lakeshore Association and PORA. “The Court carefully examined complex historical and legal considerations to come to its decision. The dismissal of the case is a critical step in alleviating tax, law enforcement, environmental, and business concerns that would come into play if the land was found to be a reservation.  Given the costs and uncertainty for everyone, it’s our hope that there will be no appeal, and this whole saga will come to an end.”

The Dykema team representing the Emmet County Lakeshore Association and PORA was led by Members R. Lance Boldrey and James Feeney, and included Courtney Kissel, Noah Hurwitz and Erin Sedmak.