U.S. Court of Appeals Upholds Town on Building Permit Question in Long-Running Wampanoag Casino Case

In a pivotal decision, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling that requires the Wampanoag tribe to obtain building permits before construction can begin on a planned bingo hall in Aquinnah.

Issued late Thursday, the ruling added another twist to the long-running legal dispute between the town and the tribe over the gaming facility planned for tribal land off State Road.

The 2-0 ruling in favor of the town of Aquinnah was made on largely technical grounds, and came after more than six months of anticipation, the death of one of three judges that heard the case, and years of acrimony in town-tribe relations, as both sides waited for the court to rule on a matter that has left the town bitterly divided.

The author of the 37-page opinion, Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson, said the court took no pleasure in basing its ruling on a procedural issue.

“… Because the tribe did not pursue the permitting issue . . . though it could have, and because this case does not present exceptional circumstances, we have no choice but to find the permitting issue waived,” she wrote.

The opinion was also signed by Judge William J. Kayatta. It noted that Judge Juan Toruella, who died in October, had heard oral arguments in the case, but did not participate in the ruling.

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