Minnesota Appeals Dismissal of Federal Suit About Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has appealed the District of Minnesota’s sua sponte dismissal of its federal lawsuit seeking declaratory judgment regarding the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and its tribal-court lawsuit over Enbridge Energy and the Line 3 oil pipeline. The federal declaratory judgment suit follows a separate lawsuit in the White Earth Band Tribal Court (Tribal Court), where the Band alleges that the Minnesota DNR violated the Band’s rights by granting water-use permits to Enbridge Energy related to the Line 3 pipeline in northern Minnesota. 

On August 19, the Minnesota DNR sued the Band in federal court, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming that — among other things — the Tribal Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the Line 3 issue. The Minnesota DNR asserted its sovereign immunity from suit in tribal court over the Line 3 claims, and the Minnesota DNR sought a preliminary injunction against the tribal proceedings.

However, on September 3, the federal district court denied the Minnesota DNR’s motion for preliminary injunction, and dismissed the complaint sua sponte for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The opinion by Hon. Wilhelmina M. Wright reasoned that “a tribe and a tribal court, however, are both protected from suit by tribal sovereign immunity,” and “[b]ecause both Defendants are immune from suit and Plaintiffs have not identified an applicable waiver or abrogation of tribal sovereign immunity, this Court lacks the authority to enjoin Defendants.” 

The court went on to note that although the Band had not filed a motion to dismiss, “in light of Defendants’ tribal sovereign immunity, the Court also concludes that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over this case and must dismiss the complaint without prejudice.” 

On September 10, the Minnesota DNR filed a Notice of Appeal, seeking the Eighth Circuit’s review of the district court’s denial of preliminary injunction, denial of the request for permission to file a motion to reconsider, and sua sponte dismissal. 

Additionally, on September 13, the Minnesota DNR filed its Eighth Circuit appeal. On the same day, it filed a motion for preliminary injunction and expedited hearing

The defendants, including the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, are represented by Joseph M. Plumer of the Plumer Law Office.