KANSAS CITY, KAN. The Wyandotte Nation and local government officials have requested that a judge create a defendant class in the tribe's legal claim to more than 1,900 acres of land near downtown Kansas City.
More than 1,300 property owners are named as defendants in a federal lawsuit, filed last month, in which the tribe claims the land was improperly seized after an 1855 treaty that moved the Wyandottes to Oklahoma.
Creation of a defendant class would "protect the rights of property owners who lack the ability to pay for an attorney," Nathan Barnes, a commissioner of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., said Monday.
The lawsuit is part of the tribe's nearly decadelong legal struggle to open a casino somewhere in Kansas City, Kan.
In it, the tribe claims land with an estimated valuation for tax purposes of $1.9 billion held by about 1,360 property owners along the Missouri River just northeast of downtown. It comprises much of the city's Fairfax Industrial District, including the plants operated by General Motors, Owens-Corning and International Paper.
The lawsuit also seeks unspecified monetary damages for 150 years of "lost use, rents, issues, income and profits."
A settlement reached in the dispute was scuttled in May, when one landowner objected. That agreement called for the tribe to drop its suit in exchange for local political support of federal legislation setting aside land for a casino.
But U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia refused to approve the settlement after Robert and Emily Modeer, who own a warehouse in the Fairfax area, objected to a provision that would have left the tribe free to press its land claim in the future.
So, in July, the tribe move ahead with its claim, serving landowners with a copy of the year-old lawsuit. Since then, the Unified Government has worked on a proposal to create a legal class for defendants in the case, said Hal Walker, the government's chief legal counsel.
Murguia must approve the request to create the defendants' class. Walker said the Unified Government has asked all deadlines in the suit be postponed until Murguia holds a hearing on the class creation.