Boy Dexter Ogle vs. Salamatof Native Association, Inc.

Boy Dexter Ogle (“Ogle”) sues Salamatof Native Association, Inc. (“Salamatof”) in equity for specific performance of a federal statutory duty to reconvey land claimed pursuant to 43 U.S.C. § 1613(c). In addition, Ogle seeks damages based upon supplemental state claims. This Court has jurisdiction over the reconveyance claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and jurisdiction over the supplemental claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.[1]

Salamatof seeks dismissal pursuant to 43 U.S.C. § 1632(b). Docket Nos. 15 & 21. Salamatof contends that Ogle failed to commence this action within one year of the filing of the map of boundaries, and thereby lost his right to sue. Id. The motion is opposed. Docket No. 18. Ogle argues that he was not given sufficient notice of Salamatof’s actions regarding his claim to satisfy due process. Id. Both parties request oral argument. Docket Nos. 22 & 23. However, the record has been fully developed and oral argument would not be helpful. D. Ak. LR 7.1(i); see United States v. Cheely, 814 F. Supp. 1430, 1436 n.2 (D. Alaska 1992).

The Court has reviewed the record and concludes that the motion to dismiss should be denied in part and granted in part. Ogle has no viable state claim against Salamatof and his supplemental claims will be dismissed. On the other hand, the existing record leaves open the possibility that Ogle did not receive notice of certain significant events in a manner conforming to due process. If, after a full development of the facts, Ogle establishes that due process was violated, he may be entitled to a judicial remedy. Constitutional due process assures Ogle of notice at two significant stages: First, when the village corporation is preparing its map and considering claims for reconveyance; and second, after the village corporation has considered the claims for reconveyance and proceeds to file its map with the Department of the Interior. The filing of the map effectively announces the village corporation’s ruling on claims of reconveyance. Further proceedings will be necessary to determine whether Ogle had actual, inquiry, or constructive notice at each of these crucial points in the determination of his claim. See 58 Am. Jur. 2d, Notice §§ 5-6, 9, & 15 (1989).[2]

Actual notice has been said to be of two kinds: (1) express, which includes direct information, and (2) implied, which is inferred from the fact that the person charged had means of knowledge which it was his duty to use. 58 Am. Jur. 2d, Notice § 6. Thus, notice is regarded in law as actual where the person sought to be charged therewith either knows of the existence of the particular facts in question or is conscious of having the means of knowing it, even though such means may not be employed by him or her. See Perry v. O’Donnell, 749 F.2d 1346, 1351 (9th Cir. 1984). Similar to implied actual notice is constructive notice. 58 Am. Jur. 2d, Notice § 7. Constructive notice is a legal inference or a legal presumption of notice which may not be disputed or controverted. See Butte & Superior Copper Co. v. Clark- Montana Realty Co., 249 U.S. 12, 63 L. Ed. 447, 39 S. Ct. 231 (1919); Hotch v. United States, 14 Alaska 594, 212 F.2d 280 (9th Cir. 1954). The importance of the classification of notice of this character arises from the fact that constructive notice is a legal inference, while implied actual notice is an inference of fact. 58 Am. Jur. 2d, Notice § 7. Finally, the closely related concept of inquiry notice exists where a person has knowledge of such facts as would lead a fair and prudent person using ordinary care to make further inquiries. Shacket v. Roger Smith Aircraft Sales, Inc., 651 F. Supp. 675, 690 (N.D. Ill. 1986), aff’d, 841 F.2d 166 (7th Cir. 1988); see discussion at 58 Am. Jur. 2d, Notice §§ 6 & 15 (creating a third type of notice which resembles both constructive and actual notice). Under this theory, a person who fails to diligently inquire is charged with knowledge that would have been required through such inquiry. 58 Am. Jur. 2d, Notice, § 15.


I. Background

Central to this case is the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides in relevant part: “No person shall . . . be deprived . . . of property, without due process of law; . . . ‘ This provision acts as a limitation on actions by the United States Government.[3] The phrase “due process of law,” which also occurs in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution as a limitation on actions by the states, encompasses two general ideas: the protection of substantive rights (substantive due process) and the protection of procedural fairness (procedural due process). See Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 125-28, 108 L. Ed. 2d 100, 110 S. Ct. 975 (1990).[4] In this case, we are concerned with procedural due process. Specifically, where it is assumed for the purposes of argument that an Alaska Native has used a parcel of land as a primary residence, a primary place of business, or a subsistence campsite, thereby earning a right to reconveyance under 43 U.S.C. § 1613(c)(1), the Court must determine what process is due before that right to reconveyance may be extinguished.[5]

In context, due process normally requires notice and an opportunity to be heard. Thus, where any proceeding will finally determine a person’s property rights, he is entitled to notice reasonably calculated, under all of the circumstances, to apprise him of the pendency of the proceeding and an opportunity to present his claim or objections. Tulsa Professional Collection Services, Inc. v. Pope, 485 U.S. 478, 484, 99 L. Ed. 2d 565, 108 S. Ct. 1340 (1988). What is “reasonable notice” depends upon all the circumstances and requires a delicate balancing of the people’s interest in a final resolution of disputes and the claimant’s right to protect his property. Id.; see also Mennonite Bd. of Missions v. Adams, 462 U.S. 791, 77 L. Ed. 2d 180, 103 S. Ct. 2706 (1983); Texaco, Inc. v. Short, 454 U.S. 516, 70 L. Ed. 2d 738, 102 S. Ct. 781 (1982); Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co., 339 U.S. 306, 94 L. Ed. 865, 70 S. Ct. 652 (1950). Actual notice is required as a precondition to a proceeding which will adversely affect the property interests of any party if its name and address are reasonably ascertainable. Tulsa, 485 U.S. at 485. In determining whether the name and address of a claimant is “reasonably ascertainable,” the party having the duty to give notice need only exercise “reasonably diligent efforts” to discover the claim. Id.

In order to resolve this case, we must therefore decide a number of questions: First, whether Salamatof’s role in evaluating and determining section 14(c) claims makes it a federal actor for the purposes of Fifth Amendment analysis; second, whether Salamatof’s actions in developing a map addressing and resolving section 14(c) claims constitutes a “proceeding” which requires notice; third, if a proceeding is contemplated, whether the village corporations must afford section 14(c) claimants, like Ogle, a particular type of “hearing” in order to evaluate their 14(c) claims;[6] and fourth, whether additional notice should have been given to Ogle of the village’s filing of the map and the need to seek judicial review within a definite period or forever be barred from any judicial relief. In order to address these issues in context, it is necessary to review the applicable provisions of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (“ANCSA“).

The United States Congress enacted ANCSA in 1971. 43 U.S.C. §§ 1601-1629(a) (1995). ANCSA extinguished the Native people of Alaska’s claims to aboriginal land title, and in return federal lands and other consideration were transferred to Alaska Natives. In order to accomplish this purpose, the United States Congress created regional and village corporations that were intended to receive the lands conveyed.

Included in ANCSA are a number of provisions designed to protect the rights of those with existing rights to land conveyed under ANCSA. Existing leases, homesteads, mining claims, and similar sites are protected. See 43 U.S.C. §§ 1613(g), 1621(b), 1621(c). Another provision, commonly known as section 14(c), requires the conveyance of lands by the village corporation to individuals on the basis of their occupancy for a particular purpose rather than their common law property rights. See 43 U.S.C. § 1613(c). The uses deemed sufficient to give rise to such a claim include claims that the property was a primary place of residence, a primary place of business, or a subsistence campsite. 43 U.S.C. § 1613(c)(1).

To facilitate the transfer of section 14(c) properties to lawful claimants, the Secretary of the Interior enacted regulations requiring the survey of the lands claimed by the villages. See 43 C.F.R. § 2650.5-4. This regulation requires village corporations to file a map delineating its land selections, including tracts that are to be reconveyed under section 14(c). Id. The map is then used by the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) as a “plan of survey.”Section 2650.5-4 provides, in pertinent part:

§ 2650.5-4 Village Surveys. (a) Only the exterior boundaries of contiguous entitlements for each village corporation will be surveyed . . . (b) Surveys will be made within the village corporation selections to delineate those tracts required by law to be conveyed by the village corporations pursuant to section 14(c) of the Act. (c) (1) The boundaries of the tracts described in paragraph (b) of this section shall be posted on the ground and shown on a map which has been approved in writing by the affected village corporation and submitted to the Bureau of Land Management. Conflicts arising among potential transferees identified in section 14(c) of the Act, or between the village corporation and such transferees will be resolved prior to submission of the map.

          (2) . . . No surveys shall begin prior to final written approval of the map by the village corporation and the Bureau of Land Management. After such written approval, the map will constitute a plan of survey. No further changes will be made to accommodate additional section 14(c) transferees, and no additional survey work desired by the village corporation or municipality within the area covered by the plan of survey or immediately adjacent thereto will be performed by the Secretary.

43 C.F.R. § 2650.5-4.

The BLM accepted and approved the filing of Salamatof’s map of boundaries on May 14, 1993. Section 1632(b) provides: Decisions made by a Village Corporation to reconvey land under section 14(c) of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act [43 U.S.C.A. § 1613(c)] shall not be subject to judicial review unless such action is initiated before a court of competent jurisdiction within one year after the date of the filing of the map of boundaries as provided for in regulations promulgated by the Secretary. 43 U.S.C. § 1632(b). It is undisputed that the § 1632(b) limitations period expired on May 14, 1994, and that Ogle did not make a claim under section 14(c) within the allotted one year period. However, 43 C.F.R. § 2650.5-4 indicates that the determination of section 14(c) claims is a matter left to the village corporations to resolve.[7] In order to resolve disputes, the village must establish a procedure to identify potential 14(c) claimants and consider their claims. Section 14(c) therefore contemplates that the village corporations will provide reasonable notice to 14(c) claimants both prior to and after filing their map of boundaries with the Department of the Interior. Notice prior to the filing is necessary in order to assure that bona fide claims are recognized in the map, and notice subsequent to the filing of the map is necessary to insure that those whose claims are denied are alerted to their right to judicial review.

Unfortunately, neither ANCSA nor the regulations provide the village with explicit directions regarding the types of notice that must be given by village corporations.[8] Prior to filing their map of boundaries, Salamatof published notice of its reconveyance program under section 14(c) in The Peninsula Clarion for fourteen days and in the Tundra Times in five consecutive weekly issues in 1986. In addition, Salamatof gave a similar notice to its shareholders in a newsletter that it published. After filing its map of boundaries with the Department of the Interior, Salamatof made no further efforts to notify potential 14(c) claimants, though the Department of the Interior adopted a policy whereby it published notice for a single day in two newspapers, and also sent notice for posting in the Kenai Post Office.[9]

In their briefs, neither party provides the Court with a map detailing the relationship between the land to which Ogle asserts his reconveyance rights and the primary location of Salamatof Native Association. Where the land in issue is in the vicinity of the village and all claimants use the village as a base of operations to get mail and supplies and travel to and from the outside, notice posted in the post office or general store may be sufficient if it is coupled with personal notice to those known to the village members. When the land in question may have no historical or geographical connection with the village, and claimants may have no reason to regularly visit the village, notices posted in the village may have no likelihood of reaching claimants. By the same token, claimants might not associate the land they claim with a village which might be far away. Of course, where the village has no past association with or even easy access to the land affected, its burden of discovering potential claimants and giving them notice is increased.

II. Constitutional Due Process

Congress is generally under no obligation to create a property right in any private individual or group. Where, however, Congress creates rights, as it did in the case of 14(c) claimants, the government must make reasonable efforts to alert the possessor of such rights to the risk of loss. The administration of Native land claims is a power traditionally exclusively reserved to the government. When Congress and the Secretary delegated to Salamatof initial responsibility to resolve section 14(c) claims, it became an instrument of the federal government, obligated under the Fifth Amendment to give adequate notice before depriving anyone of his or her property rights. See Arnett v. Kennedy, 416 U.S. 134, 167, 40 L. Ed. 2d 15, 94 S. Ct. 1633 (1974), reh’g denied, 417 U.S. 977, 41 L. Ed. 2d 1148, 94 S. Ct. 3187 (1974); see also Cleveland Bd. of Educ. v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532, 541, 84 L. Ed. 2d 494, 105 S. Ct. 1487 (1985); McGraw v. City of Huntington Beach, 882 F.2d 384, 389 (9th Cir. 1989);Dorr v. Butte County, 795 F.2d 875, 877 (9th Cir. 1986).In Loudermill, the Court stated:

The point is straightforward: the Due Process Clause provides that certain substantive rights — life, liberty, and property — cannot be deprived except pursuant to constitutionally adequate procedures. . . . The right to due process ‘is conferred not by legislative grace, but by constitutional guarantee. While the legislature may elect not to confer a property interest . . . it may not constitutionally authorize the deprivation of such an interest, once conferred, without appropriate procedural safeguards.’

470 U.S. at 541. In the absence of proceedings that comport with due process, the property rights that Congress granted to 14(c) claimants through ANCSA would be rendered meaningless.

Prior to an action which will affect an interest in property protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, a government actor must provide “notice reasonably calculated, under all the circumstances, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections.” Mullane, 339 U.S. at 314. Elaborating upon the principle announced in Mullane, the Supreme Court has more recently held that notice by mail or other means as certain to ensure actual notice is a minimum constitutional precondition to a proceeding which will adversely affect the liberty or property interests of any party, if the party’s name and address are reasonably ascertainable. Mennonite, 462 U.S. at 800.

The Court cannot yet determine whether Ogle’s identity as a 14(c) claimant was known or reasonably ascertainable. Further briefing from the parties will be required to determine whether “reasonably diligent efforts” would have identified Ogle and revealed his claim. Tulsa, 485 U.S. at 485. Ogle’s repeated notification to Salamatof of his ongoing allotment dispute with the BLM may be relevant to this analysis.[10] Both parties should analyze whether Ogle was provided with actual notice, constructive notice, or notice of facts that would have put him on inquiry notice of the need to file his claim. If the Department of the Interior gave Ogle actual notice of the official filing date and the running of the one- year statute of limitations, then the village’s failure to give actual notice may have been harmless error.

Particularly extensive efforts to provide effective notice may often be required when the government is aware of a party’s inexperience or incompetence. See, e.g., Memphis Light, Gas & Water Div. v. Craft, 436 U.S. 1, 13-15, 56 L. Ed. 2d 30, 98 S. Ct. 1554 (1978).[11] Phrased another way, “When notice is a person’s due, process which is a mere gesture is not due process.” Mullane, 339 U.S. at 315. Questions as to the form that notice must take are distinct from the question of whether service must be personal, by mail, or by publication.

III. Salamatof had no Fiduciary or Trust Duty to Ogle

Section 14(c) requires village corporations, upon receipt of a patent, to “first convey” to any Native or non-Native occupants title to the tract they occupied on December 18, 1971. 43 U.S.C. § 1613(c). Ogle claims that this created a trust, under which village corporations received and held title to section 14(c) lands for the benefit of section 14(c) claimants. Ogle ignores the ruling of the court in Lee v. United States, 629 F. Supp. 721, 728 (D. Alaska 1985). In Lee, the court stated that ANCSA‘s language, structure, and legislative history all demonstrate that Congress intended to provide a “comprehensive and final resolution of all issues relating to Native land claims in Alaska.” Lee, 629 F. Supp. at 728. The court expressly found that common law remedies, such as a constructive trust theory, were nothing more than an attempt to alter the comprehensive legislative scheme adopted by Congress. Id. at 729. Ogle and Salamatof are adversaries, not fiduciaries. The court’s holding in Lee makes clear that a trust will not be created by implication.

IV. There is no Monetary Claim for Breach of 14(c)

Ogle also contends that even if the statute of limitations is determined to constitute an absolute bar to Ogle’s section 14(c) claim, Ogle still has a cause of action against Salamatof for the wrongful loss of his section 14(c) claim. Ogle’s argument runs contrary to the express purpose and intent of ANCSA to promptly resolve claims without litigation. 43 U.S.C. § 1601. Again, turning to Lee and its stance on the creation of common law surrounding ANCSA, this cause of action does not fill a gap, but rather, creates a new and unwarranted cause of action. This Court refuses to imply or create a cause of action on the part of a 14(c) claimant against an ANCSA corporation.


Ideally, potential section 14(c) claimants would be notified of their property interest by the village corporation during the village corporation’s survey of its lands. The 14(c) claimant and the village corporation would seek informal resolution of the claim, and if resolution at the village level was unsuccessful, seek judicial review in the short time permitted after filing the map of boundaries. Salamatof’s filing of the map of boundaries is most properly viewed as the village’s last and final decision regarding pending claims. The filing would properly trigger petitions for judicial review by anyone whose claim was not honored. Salamatof is an Alaska business organized for profit and is not an impartial agency. There is no basis for according a special level of deference, such as applying an arbitrary and capricious standard, to decisions made by the village corporation. Judicial review must be de novo.

Thus, there are two points at which notice is required to comport with due process: (1) at the time the village is finalizing its land selections and preparing its map, so that claims may be made and if possible informally resolved; and (2) after filing its map in order to trigger the statute of limitations. The Court cannot yet decide whether Ogle received the notice that was due from Salamatof prior to its filing the map of boundaries with the Department of the Interior. Nor can the Court yet determine whether the notice afforded by the Department of the Interior alerted Ogle to the running of the one-year statute of limitations. At a minimum, the Court will require further briefing from the parties. It is possible that a factual hearing will eventually be necessary.


The motion to dismiss at Docket No. 15 is DENIED IN PART AND GRANTED IN PART. Ogle’s state claims are dismissed with prejudice. His federal due process claims require further proceedings. The requests for oral argument at Docket Nos. 22 & 23 are DENIED.

Conitz vs. Teck Alaska Incorporated



Before the Court are Plaintiff Gregg Conitz and Defendant Teck Alaska Incorporated (“Teck”) with what amount to cross-motions for summary judgment. At Docket 49, Conitz requests a permanent injunction against Teck’s shareholder employment preference on the grounds that it violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The issuance of such an injunction would require this Court to essentially dispose of all the legal issues presented in this case, so the Court will treat it as a motion for summary judgment. Teck files its own motion for summary judgment at Docket 57, arguing that the shareholder preference does not violate Title VII and that, in any event, Conitz has no standing to make a Title VII claim because he was not qualified for the promotion which he sought in 2008.

Having reviewed the voluminous briefs submitted by the parties, the Court concludes that oral argument is neither necessary nor warranted.


Conitz is a Teck employee working at the Red Dog mine, which Teck operates in cooperation with co-Defendant NANA Regional Corporation (“NANA”), an Alaska Native corporation created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (ANCSA). Conitz claims that he has been continually passed over for promotion because of Teck’s policy of favoring NANA shareholders in hiring. According to Conitz, the policy is racially discriminatory because the vast majority of NANA shareholders are Alaska Natives. According to the Shareholder Records Manager for NANA, out of 12,264 total shareholders, there are 69 who are not Alaska Natives who have obtained shares through inheritance.[1]

This suit is Conitz’s second attempt to invalidate Teck’s shareholder employment preference. In Conitz v. Teck Cominco Alaska Inc., 4:06-cv-00015-RRB (“Conitz I”), this Court granted summary judgment to Teck on two independent grounds. The Court held that Conitz could not claim discrimination in hiring because he was not qualified for the positions for which he had applied, and because Teck’s employment preference for shareholders of the NANA Regional Corporation (“NANA”) was not a racial preference.[2] The Ninth Circuit affirmed the Court’s decision with regard to Conitz’s qualifications, but did not address whether shareholder preference constitutes racial discrimination.[3]

In this case, Conitz again alleges that he was discriminated against on July 25, 2008, when he was passed over for a promotion to the position of Mine Operations Supervisor in favor of Charles Barger, an Alaska Native/NANA Shareholder.[4] Conitz claims that he was more qualified for the management position than was Barger, an assertion which his supervisors at Teck strenuously deny.


Summary judgment is appropriate if no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[5] The moving party always bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a material issue of fact.[6] The moving party need not present evidence; it need only point out the lack of any genuine dispute as to material fact.[7] Once the moving party meets this burden, the non-moving party must set forth evidence of specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue of material fact.[8] All evidence presented by the non-movant must be believed for purposes of summary judgment, and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-movant.[9]


To establish a prima facie case for racial discrimination under Title VII, “the complainant must show that (1) the complainant belongs to a protected class; (2) the complainant applied for and was qualified for a job for which the employer was seeking applications; (3) the complainant was rejected despite the complainant’s qualifications; and (4) after the complainant’s rejection, the position remained open and the employer continued seeking applications from persons with the complainant’s qualifications.”[10] “[I]f an employer has not left the disputed position open and has instead hired someone else, the fourth element of the prima facie case is the hiring of an individual not within the same protected class as the complainant.”[11]

Conitz’s claims are fairly simple. Conitz argues that the shareholder preference amounts to racial discrimination because nearly all of NANA’s shareholders are Alaska Natives and he is Caucasian. Teck puts forth a number of arguments as to why Conitz has failed to make a prima facie case for racial discrimination. The Court will first discuss Teck’s arguments with regard to the legality of the shareholder preference and then address Conitz’s qualifications for the specific promotion which is the basis of this litigation.

A. The Shareholder Preference Is Not Racially Discriminatory

In Conitz I, this Court held that the shareholder preference “is based on the permissible distinction of shareholder status rather than race.”[12] The Court cited Morton v. Mancari, 417 U.S. 535 (1974), in which the Supreme Court ruled that a Bureau of Indian Affairs hiring preference for members of Indian tribes was “political rather than racial in nature.”[13]

The Court notes that Mancari is not a perfect analogue for this case, since it involved governmental action, whereas this case concerns the actions of a private employer. However, Mancari was cited for the proposition that distinctions based on non-racial categories do not trigger Title VII liability simply because they are related to national ancestry.[14]

As in Conitz I, the Court must decide whether Teck’s shareholder preference is racially discriminatory. There is no question that if NANA were Conitz’s employer, it would be exempt from Title VII liability under the exemption provided in 43 U.S.C. § 1626(g). According to the Mancari decision, it would also not be racially discriminatory for Teck to give preference to members of all Indian tribes. However, the Ninth Circuit has held that employment preferences for members of a particular tribe are racially discriminatory when adopted by a non-tribal employer.[15] This is true even where, as in this case, the private employer has instituted the hiring preference as part of an agreement permitting it to operate on tribal lands.[16]

Therefore, if Teck’s employment preference were explicitly for Alaska Natives, or Alaska Natives of NANA regional origin, it would violate Title VII. Teck vehemently denies that any such preference exists; it insists that the preference is for NANA shareholders, who are overwhelmingly though not exclusively Alaska Natives.[17]

Teck’s shareholder preference policy is not written down anywhere, although it is memorialized in the operating agreement between Teck and NANA. The agreement requires that “as many as possible of the employees required by” Teck at the Red Dog Mine “shall be Natives of the NANA Region.”[18] Although “Natives of the NANA Region” sounds like a racial category, the agreement explicitly provides that “‘Natives of the NANA Region’ means the stockholders of NANA whose stock carries voting rights, and the descendants and spouses of such stockholders.”[19] By its own terms, then, the shareholder preference policy is not racial in character, although both parties have tended to confuse rather than clarify the issue by using the terms “NANA shareholder” and “Natives of the NANA Region” interchangeably.[20]

Conitz also argues that the shareholder preference, although not explicitly racial, is a proxy for racial discrimination. He cites Bonilla v. Oakland Scavenger Co., 697 F.2d 1297 (9th Cir. 1982), in which the Ninth Circuit held that a shareholder hiring preference was a proxy for racial discrimination where the employer “(1) [assigned] the better jobs with higher pay and more guaranteed hours to the shareholder-employees, who were exclusively of Italian ancestry, and (2) [limited] share ownership to persons who were of Italian ancestry and were either members of the family or close friends of a current shareholder.”[21]

The Bonilla precedent is inapplicable in this case for two reasons. First, several of the beneficiaries of the discrimination in Bonilla were non-shareholders of Italian ancestry. Conitz has not alleged that any Alaska Natives other than NANA shareholders have benefitted from Teck’s shareholder preference policy.

Second, much of the discrimination which took place in Bonilla was done by restricting the selection of shareholders to those of Italian ancestry. The Ninth Circuit held that in those limited circumstances the process of selecting shareholders was subject to Title VII scrutiny.[22] NANA’s shareholder selection, however, is prescribed by an act of Congress, namely ANCSA. It would be improper for this Court to find that NANA’s shareholder selection violates Title VII when it is Congress that has defined the shareholder class. Legislative enactments should be read in harmony with one another, whenever possible.[23] The Court simply cannot conclude that Congress, in creating the Native Corporations, intended them to have less of an ability to negotiate contracts favorable to their shareholders than would any other corporation.

The shareholder preference is not a racial preference, and Conitz has not shown that it is applied as a proxy for racial discrimination. Therefore, the preference is not a racially discriminatory policy prohibited by the Civil Rights Act. The Court need not address Teck’s argument that the Red Dog Mine is a joint venture between NANA and Teck, and therefore exempt from Title VII under the native corporation exemption found in 43 U.S.C. § 1626(g).

B. Conitz Has Failed to Show That He Was Qualified For the Promotion

In Conitz I, the Court ruled that Conitz had failed to make a prima facie case of discrimination because he had not supplied evidence that he was as qualified for a promotion as those individuals who were promoted. His case is similarly deficient in this litigation. In arguing that he was more qualified for the 2008 promotion than Barger, Conitz primarily relies upon his nineteen years of experience at the mine, versus eight years for Barger.[24] Besides his years of experience, Conitz presents no evidence of his qualifications other than his own affidavit, in which he asserts: “Mr. Barger was far less qualified for the position than I. Had Mr. Barger not been assigned to Acting Supervising duty instead of me, Mr. Barger would not have had any supervisory experience.”[25]

Of course, as this statement indicates, Barger had been previously assigned as an Acting Supervisor, and therefore did have supervisory experience at the time of his 2008 promotion. Conitz also recounts that he discussed the decision to promote Barger with his supervisor Larry Hanna, who told him Barger was “doing a better job” than Conitz, but “would never give me a specific reason as to why he thought so.”[26]

The overwhelming testimony of Conitz’s superiors contradicts his characterization of his qualifications. Robert Scott, who was general manager of the Red Dog Mine from 2003-2005, testifies that “Mr. Conitz’s job performance, particularly with respect to safety, made him unsuited to serve as an example for others to follow, which is an integral component of any supervisory position at Teck[.]”[27] Larry Hanna, who made the decision to promote Barger over Conitz in 2008, says,

I selected Mr. Barger to fill a Shift Supervisor position because his leadership skills were superior to those of Mr. Conitz and each of the other candidates, because he was most adept in making the best use of people, and because he had demonstrated superior management skills.[28]

Hanna asserts that Barger was “better qualified than any other applicant.” Of Conitz, Hanna testifies as follows:

Mr. Conitz is an adequate operator who has long showed mediocre performance in his job. […] His attitude is poor. He lacks leadership abilities, does not demonstrate initiative, and is not a team player. […] [H]e has limited abilities to perform tasks that require finesse as an operator. Historically, his safety record has been problematic. At every level, Mr. Conitz has failed to demonstrate that he has the skills that Teck seeks in its supervisors and managers.[29]

This opinion is echoed by Jim Somers, Superintendent of Human Resources at Teck, who calls Conitz a “mediocre employee” who has “typically been ranked at or near the bottom of the applicant pool.”[30]

The Ninth Circuit has repeatedly refused to find a “genuine issue” where the only evidence presented is “uncorroborated and self-serving” testimony.[31] In this case, the only evidence to support Conitz’s qualification for the supervisor position is his own affidavit. While the Court does not disregard Conitz’s affidavit entirely, it is at odds with the testimony of all his superiors at the Red Dog Mine. It is an “uncorroborated and self-serving affidavit” which is insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment where substantial contrary evidence has been submitted. In light of the paucity of evidence that Conitz was qualified for a promotion, and the abundance of evidence to the contrary, the Court holds that Conitz has failed to make out a prima facie case for racial discrimination under Title VII.


Teck’s employment preference for NANA shareholders is not a racial distinction and therefore does not violate either the Civil Rights Act or any other provisions of federal or state law cited by Conitz in his complaint. Furthermore, Conitz has failed to make a prima facie case of discrimination because he was not qualified for the promotion which he sought and for which Charles Barger was accepted. For the foregoing reasons, Teck’s Motion for Summary Judgment at Docket 57 is GRANTED and Conitz’s Motion for a Permanent Injunction at Docket 49 is DENIED. The motions to strike at Dockets 69 and 91 are DENIED AS MOOT because the evidence sought to be excluded had no effect on the Court’s decision. Teck’s Motion to Change Venue at Docket 28 is DENIED AS MOOT.

ENTERED this 20th day of January, 2010.
United States District Judge

Conitz vs. Teck Cominco Alaska, Inc. and NANA Regional Corporation


Plaintiff Gregg Conitz (“Plaintiff”), an employee of Teck Cominco Alaska, Inc. (“Teck Cominco”), alleges that he was turned down for two Separate promotions because of Teck Cominco’s hiring preference for NANA Regional Corp. (“NANA”) shareholders. Plaintiff, who is not a NANA shareholder, argues that this shareholder hiring preference is a “surrogate” or “proxy” for race and therefore illegal under state and federal anti-discrimination law.[1]

To assert a claim for discrimination and retaliation under federal and state law, a plaintiff-employee must first establish a prima facie case that sets forth facts which raise an inference of discrimination. Only after Plaintiff establishes a prima facie case does the burden shift to the employer to articulate some legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for the employee’s rejection.[2]

To establish a prima facie case “the complainant must show that (1) the complainant belongs to a protected class; (2) the complainant applied for and was qualified for a job for which the employer was seeking applications; (3) the complainant was rejected despite the complainant’s qualifications; and (4) after the complainant’s rejection, the position remained open and the employer continued seeking applications from persons with the complainant’s qualifications.”[3] “[I]f an employer has not left the disputed position open, and has instead hired someone else, the fourth element of the prima facie case is the hiring of an individual not within the same protected class as the complainant.”[4]

Plaintiff’s discrimination and retaliations claims necessarily fail because Plaintiff has not demonstrated that he was qualified for the training and supervisory positions which he sought. Plaintiff therefore fails to establish elements 2 and 3 of the prima facie case. Indeed, the evidence shows that Plaintiff has a poor safety record, little leadership and supervisory experience, and no formal training as a trainer.[5] Additionally, the evidence shows that the individuals who were ultimately selected for the positions were more qualified than both Plaintiff and all other applicants.

Because Plaintiff has not established a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden does not shift to Teck Cominco to demonstrate legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for not promoting Plaintiff. Even so, Teck Cominco’s policy of hiring the most qualified applicants and its concern regarding Plaintiff’s poor safety record are both legitimate and nondiscriminatory and do not appear to be pretexts for discrimination. When a hiring or firing decision is based upon a lack of proper qualifications, the decision is legitimate and nondiscriminatory as a matter of law.[6]

Further, even if Teck Cominco’s explanations were pretextual, application of the shareholder hiring preference is not prohibited by law because it is based on the permissible distinction of shareholder status rather than race.[7] Not all Natives are NANA shareholders and not all NANA shareholders are Alaska Natives. A non-Native can become a NANA shareholder through marriage, adoption, or inheritance, and counsel for NANA avers that at least 65 of NANA’s 11,655 current shareholders fall into this category.[8] Thus, Plaintiff’s claim that the shareholder hiring preference is a “surrogate” or “proxy” for race is incorrect.

Because Plaintiff has not established a prima facie case, and because the shareholder hiring preference is based on a permissible distinction, the Court need not consider whether 43 U.S.C. § 1626(g) exempts Teck Cominco from the state and federal anti-discrimination laws upon which this suit is based.[9]

Finally, regarding Plaintiff’s claim that Teck Cominco employees invaded Plaintiff’s privacy by opening his personal mail which he had forwarded to his work address, the Court finds that Plaintiff has presented no evidence to support his claim that mail addressed to him was intentionally opened or read. Without evidence of intentionality, Plaintiff has no claim.[10]

The Court therefore concludes that Teck Cominco is entitled to summary judgment on all claims presented by Plaintiff. Accordingly, Teck Cominco’s Motion at Docket 91 is granted, all other pending motions are denied as moot, and this matter is dismissed with prejudice.

It is so ordered.

ENTERED this 21st day of July, 2008.


United States District Judge