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Wendy Knox and Richard Dotson v. United States Department of the Interior

September 22, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable B. Lynn Winmill Chief U. S. District Judge



The Court has before it (1) a motion to reconsider or, in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment, filed by the Secretary and (2) a motion to compel discovery filed by the plaintiffs. The motions are fully briefed and at issue. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the plaintiffs' motion, allow a limited period of discovery on certain issues, and deny the Secretary's motion without prejudice to the Secretary's right to re-file the motion after the discovery period.


The Secretary's motion seeks reconsideration, or summary judgment, based on new evidence that the Secretary alleges shows that plaintiffs have no standing and that their claims are barred by the statute of limitations. The plaintiffs respond by opposing both arguments and requesting more discovery on those issues. To resolve these matters, the Court must first review the plaintiffs' allegations.

The Complaint

Plaintiffs Wendy Know and Richard Dotson challenge the Secretary's decision to approve gaming compacts between Idaho and several tribes. This approval, plaintiffs assert, authorized the Tribes to install slot machines at the Fort Hall casino. See Amended Complaint, Dkt. 4 at ¶ 28.

Knox and Dotson allege that they both became "compulsive gamblers" after the Fort Hall Casino installed slot machines. Knox and Dotson gamble "almost exclusively" at Fort Hall Casino "because of its close proximity to their respective residences, compared to the next nearest casino gambling establishments located hundreds of miles away." Id. Of all the different types of gambling available at the Fort Hall Casino, Knox and Dotson played only the slot machines. Id. They allege that "[b]ecause of the slot machines at the Fort Hall Casino, [they] both developed clinical and devastating addictions to gambling at the Fort Hall Casino." Id.

Knox estimates her slot machine losses at Fort Hall Casino at about $50,000.00, and Dotson estimates his slot machine losses at Fort Hall Casino at about $30,000.00. Id. They also incurred additional debt they otherwise would not have incurred and "were subjected to intrusive and humiliating collection efforts, stress, anxiety and marital and family strife, and tremendous emotional distress." Id. Dotson lost his house and job, and was convicted of the crime of forgery in order to obtain gambling funds. Id. Both plaintiffs continue to receive treatment for their destructive gambling addictions through Gambler's Anonymous. Id. Dotson has also obtained counseling from a private licensed counselor for his gambling addiction. Id.

The plaintiffs allege that "[i]f the defendants had originally acted in accordance with [Indian Gaming Regulatory Act] and the Johnson Act, the slot machines would not have been installed at Fort Hall Casino, or would have been removed therefrom, and neither Plaintiff would have suffered the harm set forth above." Id. They allege that if the Court declares that the slot machines violate the law, "Fort Hall Casino will be forced to remove its slot machines, and such gambling would be much less readily available to Plaintiffs, dramatically speeding and increasing their recovery from gambling addiction and preventing or minimizing further harm to the Plaintiffs of the kind set forth above. Id.

Court's Earlier Decision Denying Motions to Dismiss

The Secretary filed a motion to dismiss alleging, among other things, that plaintiffs lacked standing. The Court disagreed, finding that plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged a specific injury caused by the Secretary that would be redressed by a favorable decision. See Memorandum Decision (Dkt. 46).

In pursuing this standing challenge, the Secretary argued that a favorable decision would not redress plaintiffs' injuries because gambling was so widely available that removing video gaming machines from the Fort Hall Casino would not ultimately cure plaintiffs' gambling addiction -- they would just gamble elsewhere. The Court rejected this argument, finding that plaintiffs alleged that they gamble "almost exclusively" at Fort Hall Casino and played "only" the video gaming machines. See Amended Complaint, Dkt. 4 at ¶ 28. All inferences must be granted in favor of the plaintiffs, Bernhardt, 279 F.3d at 867, and one reasonable inference is that plaintiffs' gambling addiction is tied directly and exclusively to the Tribes' video gaming machines. Referring to an earlier discussion of Ninth Circuit authority, the Court stated that "plaintiffs need not demonstrate that there is a 'guarantee' that their injuries will be addressed by a favorable decision, but need only show that it is 'likely' as opposed to 'merely speculative' that a favorable decision will redress their injury." The Court found that plaintiffs' allegations were sufficient under that standard.

The Secretary had also argued that plaintiffs' action is untimely. The applicable statute of limitations is set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2401 and is six years. The Secretary argued that its approval of the four compacts was originally granted in 2000, and that this action was time-barred because it was not filed until 9 years later in 2009. In its earlier decision, the Court disagreed. The Court reasoned that the four compacts challenged by plaintiffs did not authorize video gaming -- the type of gaming challenged by plaintiffs -- in 2000. Thus, plaintiffs had no injury -- or right to sue -- in 2000, and the limitations period could not have started at that time. See Acri v. International Ass'n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, 781 F.2d 1393, 1396 (9th Cir. 1986) (holding that "[u]nder federal law a cause of action accrues when the plaintiff is aware of the wrong and can successfully bring a cause of action"). The video gaming challenged here was not approved until January 8, 2003. It was not until sometime after 2004 -- at a point after the ...

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