Equity’s New Frontier: Receiverships in Indian Country
Southern California’s Coachella Valley is one of the poorest regions in the country. Its location in Riverside County-which is within close proximity to some of the nation’s wealthiest citizens and also the U.S.-Mexico border-along with the county’s dependence onthe agriculture industry has contributed to a significant demand for low-wage farm workers, who often have a mix of immigration statuses. Historical, political, and socioeconomic factors have compounded to limit affordable housing options in the Coachella Valley for these farm workers and have generated the proliferation of illegal trailer parks with egregious habitability concerns on the vast swathes of Indian country throughout the county. Tribal sovereignty renders these parks beyond the reach of prophylactic state and local laws that would otherwise protect the health, safety, and welfare of the parks’ residents. Consequently, these parks are subject only to the jurisdiction of federal courts. In United States v. Duro, a federal judge appointed a receiver to oversee urgent infrastructure improvements in Duroville, one of the largest parks. Receivership is arguably the strongest and most invasive articulation of a court’s equitable powers because it strips a party of his property rights and vests control of the property in question to a third party that is accountable only to the court. The court’s action in appointing a receiver was a key factor in the provision of a safe relocation site for Duroville’s residents, which required a concerted effort by the County, the State, and a private housing developer. This Comment explores the implications that this groundbreaking case has for other trailer parks on Indian country in the Coachella Valley. Ultimately, it concludes that the Duroville receivership was a necessary and legitimate extension of the court’s equitable powers and that receivership can be an effective means both to remedy urgent habitability problems in other trailer parks on Indian land and to spur local government actors to work towards providing decent, safe, and affordable housing alternatives for residents of these parks.