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Lightfoot v. Jewell

United States District Court, Eighth Circuit

December 12, 2013

Sheryl Rae Lightfoot, Plaintiff,
v.
Sally Jewell as Secretary of the Department of the Interior, or her successor; United States Department of the Interior; United States; Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community; and Kenneth Jo Thomas, Defendants.

Erick G. Kaardal, Esq., and William F. Mohrman, Esq., Morhman & Kaardal, P.A., counsel for Plaintiff.

Bahram Samie, Assistant United States Attorney, United States Attorney's Office, counsel for Defendants Sally Jewell as Secretary of the Department of the Interior, or her successor; United States Department of the Interior; and United States.

Gregory S. Paulson, Esq., and Kurt V. BlueDog, Esq., BlueDog, Paulson & Small, P.L.L.P.; and Richard A. Duncan, Esq., and Christina Martenson, Esq., Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, counsel for Defendant Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.

Gary A. Debele, Esq., Walling, Berg & Debele, P.A., counsel for Defendant Kenneth Jo Thomas.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DONOVAN W. FRANK, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order brought by Plaintiff Sheryl Rae Lightfoot against Defendants Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and Kenneth Jo Thomas (not the United States Defendants: Sally Jewell as Secretary of the Department of the Interior, or her successor; United States Department of the Interior; and United States). (Doc. No. 21.) For the reasons set forth below, and articulated by the Court at the hearing on the Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order, the Court denies the motion.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Sheryl Rae Lightfoot ("Lightfoot") and Defendant Kenneth Jo Thomas ("Thomas") married on the grounds of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux (Dakota) Community Reservation in August 1996. (Doc. No. 25, Kaardal Decl. ¶ 4, Exs. 3 & 10.) Thomas has been an enrolled member of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux (Dakota) Community (the "SMSC") since 1972. (Kaardal Decl. ¶ 4, Ex. 3.) Lightfoot is not a member of the SMSC; she is an enrolled member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Lake Superior Band of Chippewa. (Doc. No. 24, Lightfoot Decl. ¶ 5.) Lightfoot and Thomas have two children together, both of whom they adopted from China. ( Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) They adopted one child in August 2000 and one child in November 2003. ( Id. ) The parties are now both seeking a divorce. Lightfoot filed for divorce in the British Columbia Supreme Court on September 19, 2013. (Kaardal Decl. ¶ 4, Ex. 3.) Lightfoot currently resides in British Columbia with both children. ( Id. ) Thomas filed for divorce in the Tribal Court of the SMSC ("SMSC Tribal Court") on October 16, 2013. (Kaardal Decl. ¶ 4, Ex. 10.) Thomas currently resides in Minnesota on SMSC property. ( Id. )

The parties' marital history prior to the divorce filings is somewhat in dispute. Generally, it is agreed that the parties lived in Minnesota together until sometime in the summer of 2009 when they moved to British Columbia so Lightfoot could pursue a tenure-track professor position at the University of British Columbia. (Lightfoot Decl. ¶ 5; Kaardal Decl. ¶ 4, Ex. 3.) The children began attending school in British Columbia at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year. (Lightfoot Decl. ¶ 5; Doc. No. 34, Ex. D.) It appears that the family returned to Minnesota for each summer, but that the children were in school in British Columbia for each school year from 2009 through the present. ( See Lightfoot Decl. ¶ 5; Doc. No. 34, Ex. D.) At some point in and around 2011, Thomas remained in Minnesota for approximately one year to care for his sister who was dying from terminal cancer. ( See Lightfoot Decl. ¶ 5; Doc. No. 34, Ex. D.) Thomas asserts that apart from that year, he was the primary caregiver for the children. (Doc. No. 34, Ex. D.) The parties agree that the children are not eligible for enrollment with SMSC, but Thomas asserts they self-identify as members of the SMSC and have fully participated in SMSC cultural life, while Lightfoot disagrees. (Kaardal Decl. ¶ 4, Exs. 3 & 10.)

Thomas is unemployed, but he receives per capita payments from the SMSC in the amount of approximately $64, 000 per month. (Kaardal Decl. ¶ 4, Exs. 3 & 10.) The parties maintain a number of properties in the United States, including a house on SMSC land. ( Id. ) The home in British Columbia is rented. ( Id. ) Thomas asserts that the SMSC property and house are the "parties' primary residence." (Kaardal Decl. ¶ 4, Ex. 3.)

The divorce cases in the British Columbia Supreme Court and in the SMSC Tribal Court have progressed since they were each filed. For purposes of this motion, the most important events include:

(1) In British Columbia:
• Thomas was served with a Notice of Family Claim from the British Columbia Supreme ...

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