Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties are asking a federal judge to toss out an Alexander Valley Indian tribe's lawsuit seeking federal recognition, arguing the case was filed 40 years too late.
The counties are worried that restoration of the Mishewal Wappo tribe will lead to another Indian casino.
The Wappos filed suit against U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last year, charging the federal government acted unlawfully when it disbanded the tribe in 1959.
The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs established a 54-acre reservation for the Wappos on the Russian River northeast of Healdsburg in 1908.
But the tribe's Alexander Valley Rancheria lost its federal status 51 years later when Congress passed a law aimed at privatizing California's small Indian communities.
The tribe's lawsuit says its land was improperly distributed and the federal government didn't keep a promise to improve water, roads and sanitation.
The Wappos are asking the Interior Department to restore their tribal status, benefits and historic land rights. If successful, the lawsuit would authorize casino gambling on its restored land.
But in a motion filed earlier this month, Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties said there is a six-year statute of limitations for such claims against the federal government. The tribe's suit should have been filed within six years of the date it was officially disbanded, according to the counties.
"(The) plaintiff failed to bring its claims within six years after it accrued, and its action must be dismissed," the counties said. "(The) plaintiff simply missed the statutory deadline, and may not overturn the 1959 termination through the courts."
Only Congress can restore the tribe's federal recognition and benefits now, the counties said.
Joseph Kitto, an attorney for the tribe, and David Glazer, an attorney for the Interior Department, didn't respond to e-mails seeking comment.
A hearing in the case is scheduled in November before U.S. District Court Judge James Ware in San Jose.
Meanwhile, the tribe and Interior Department are discussing a possible settlement, according to court papers.
Earlier this year, Wappo tribal chairman Scott Gabaldon said the tribe won't decide on its future plans — including a possible casino — until it regains federal recognition.
Sonoma County has said a casino on restored Wappo land would impose "massive new obligations" on local government while removing property from its tax base.
The Wappos once occupied portions of Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties, according to anthropologists.