Oral argument video here.
Prior CA9 opinion materials here.
Here are the issues in the case, according to the tribe:
Michael and Debra Schugg, the operators of a dairy farm on a parcel of land known as “Section 16” in south-central Arizona, filed voluntary petitions for bankruptcy in 2004. Because Section 16 is completely surrounded by the Gila River Indian Community’s Reservation and allotted Indian land, a dispute arose over whether Section 16’s owners were entitled to cross the Community’s land to access their property. After a first bench trial, the district court concluded that the owners held a legal right of access across the Reservation to their parcel, but that any opinion concerning the scope of the easement–in particular, its proposed expansion in light of hypothetical development plans– would be advisory. On appeal, this Court affirmed, holding that although the Schuggs could access their property via an easement along Murphy Road, there was no injury-in-fact giving rise to a case or controversy regarding the scope of the easement. This Court remanded for the sole purpose of allowing the district court to adjudicate an unrelated claim.The trustee acting on behalf of the Schuggs’ bankruptcy estate (Trustee) promptly abandoned that remaining claim, and the parties jointly informed the district court that there were “no longer any issues to be decided by this court on remand.” [E.R. 318]. Before the district court could enter final judgment, however, the Trustee changed his mind. He advised the court that as a result of new, post-remand circumstances, “an actual case or controversy now exists” as to the scope of the easement. [E.R. 314] (emphasis added). Apparently believing that an Article III standing defect can be cured by an injury materializing six years after the suit had been filed, the district court granted the Trustee partial relief on summary judgment and additional relief following a bench trial.This appeal contends that: (i) the district court lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate the scope-of-the-easement claim, both because the Trustee (as this Court found the first time around) previously lacked Article III standing with respect to that claim and because the claim remains prudentially unripe now; (ii) the grant of partial summary judgment overlooked material factual disputes; and (iii) the bench trial was tainted by legal error.