Tribe's buffalo herd, land headed to auction

2011-12-30T06:30:00Z Tribe's buffalo herd, land headed to auctionRuth Moon Journal staff Rapid City Journal
December 30, 2011 6:30 am  • 

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe stands to lose its buffalo herd and land in a forced auction within the month if an agreement is not reached by early January.

Attorneys for Interior rancher Clint Amiotte have given the tribe until Thursday to negotiate a settlement in a lawsuit where he claims a tribal organization sold 308 of his buffalo without paying for them.

If the tribe and Amiotte do not reach an agreement by Thursday, the U.S. Marshals Service plans to auction the tribe's buffalo herd on Jan. 23, according to a letter from Amiotte's attorney, Allison Eklund, that was sent to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe's chairman, attorneys and tribal council.

"We, the attorneys for Clint Amiotte, have postponed the sale for two weeks to allow time for negotiation to resolve this matter," the letter says.

A year and a half ago, the U.S. District Court in South Dakota ruled against the tribe, granting just over $1 million to Amiotte, who had sued the tribe for payment for 308 buffalo he sold on a verbal agreement in 2006.

The ruling was a judgment by default, which means the defendant, Pte Hca Ka Inc. - a chartered organization of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe - did not send a representative to present its defense in the case.

The U.S. District Court in South Dakota ruled in Amiotte's favor by default Aug. 19, 2010. Pte Hca Ka asked the court to vacate that judgment Aug. 18, 2011.

Pte Hca Ka alleged that Amiotte's attorneys served the initial summons and complaint to the man who cleaned the slaughterhouse, not to the president of the company. Pte Hca Ka also argued that it does not fall under court jurisdiction, citing sovereign immunity under the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and that the fraud Amiotte alleged happened on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.

If the district court upholds Pte Hca Ka, Inc.'s argument that it falls under the tribe's sovereign immunity, then the judgment in Amiotte's favor will be overturned and the auction would not proceed, said Christopher Halbert, an attorney who practices tribal law in Nebraska and Kansas. It is possible that Amiotte may have to take the case up in Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Court. However, if Pte Hca Ka's arguments are not successful, it still would be unusual for a lawsuit to require that tribal land and buffalo be forcefully sold at auction to satisfy a judgment, Halbert said.

Amiotte's attorney has not filed a response to Pte Hca Ka's request, according to an online list of court documents. In the meantime, the attorney's letter indicates that Amiotte is proceeding with plans to collect on the court's ruling.

The auction is part of the collection process to pay Amiotte for his buffalo. If the buffalo sale does not raise $1 million, the U.S. Marshals Service has the authority to sell Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe land , according to a writ of execution filed last January and refiled Nov. 29, with the U.S. District Court.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Kevin Keckler, the only tribal member authorized to speak for the tribe, declined to comment on the size of the tribe's buffalo herd or anything related to the case or the herd.

In July and August 2006, a Pte Hca Ka representative sent 16 shipments of Amiotte's buffalo to slaughterhouses on the Cheyenne River reservation and in Omaha, Neb., according to Amiotte's complaint to the court on Nov. 9, 2009.

Amiotte agreed over the phone to sell the buffalo for $1.85 per pound hot weight, or weight after the animal is killed, gutted and rinsed. Pte Hca Ka shipped 164,834 hot weight pounds of Amiotte's buffalo, according to the complaint.

In the complaint, Amiotte alleged he received one payment that summer, a $12,337 check from Pte Hca Ka, which was returned after deposit because of insufficient funds. The next payment he received was three years later when in the summer of 2009 he received a $10,000 check from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and a $7,500 check from Pte Hca Ka.

On Nov. 9, 2009, Amiotte filed a 10-count lawsuit against the tribe and three other defendants for the cost of the buffalo - $304,942.90 - plus interest, attorneys' fees, costs and expenses. All defendants but Pte Hca Ka have since been dropped from the case.

Amiotte filed the suit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, alleging that the defendants never planned to pay for the buffalo before shipping it across state lines to sell it. In the motion to vacate the court's judgment, Pte Hca Ka argued that the case does not constitute a RICO violation.

Amiotte and his attorney, Eklund, declined to comment on the case.

Contact Ruth Moon at 394-8415 or ruth.moon@rapidcityjournal.com.

 

Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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