Supreme Court situation could expose Indian tribes to brand brand brand new appropriate dangers

Supreme Court situation could expose Indian tribes to brand brand brand new appropriate dangers

Professor of Law & Director for the native Law & Policy Center, Michigan State University

Disclosure statement

Matthew L.M. Fletcher works for eight Indian tribes as a judge that is appellateGrand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Hoopa Valley Tribe, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Nottawaseppi Huron Band associated with Potawatomi, Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, and Santee Sioux Tribe). He’s associated with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians being a member that is enrolled.


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Accidents happen. And quite often the employees are involved by those accidents of Indian tribes. The Supreme Court is planned to know a full situation which will rule in the the restrictions of legal immunity of tribes and their staff. The case could expose Indian tribes to unexpected – and significant – liability in state and federal courts to which tribes are strangers although it deals with a narrow question in a personal injury lawsuit.

In Lewis v. Clarke, the Supreme Court will deal with whether a tribal casino worker – in cases like this, a limo driver – may be sued for an accident that took place although the worker had been regarding the clock but away from Indian lands.

As a scholar, We have examined the complexities of tribal immunity that is sovereign tribal government-owned organizations plus the unique challenges Indian tribes face in federal and state courts. My research leads me personally to think the end result associated with the full instance is very important as it could set a precedent that could damage tribes’ ability to govern.

The backdrop

In belated 2011, a Mohegan Sun Casino limousine motorist rear-ended Brian and Michelle Lewis’ car on I-95 near Norwalk, Connecticut, hurting the few into the collision. Ordinarily, under Connecticut legislation, hurt men and women have 2 yrs to register a accidental injury claim in state court.

Under Mohegan legislation, nonetheless, the statute of limits duration is the one 12 months, perhaps maybe not two. For reasons not yet determined within the general public record, the Lewis few failed to bring a suit until couple of years following the event, in 2013. Because it ended up being far too late to sue in tribal court, they brought the suit to Connecticut courts.

And right here’s the sc rub, legitimately talking: Indian tribes can’t be sued in state court without their permission. This provision is what’s known as “sovereign immunity.” American constitutional legislation teaches that federal and state governments can not be sued in court absent their consent, a doctrine that predates the forming of the Constitution. Certainly, Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Paper No. 81 put down this concept in 1788.

Counsel for the Lewis couple most likely knew tribes benefit from the immunity that is same decided to sue the limo motorist alternatively associated with tribe, the driver’s boss at the time of the collision.

Accidental injury lawyers have a tendency to look for deep pockets that may spend a million buck judgment, so a suit against a limo motorist does not appear to be a fantastic strategy in the event that objective is just a big payout. It seems the Lewises’ attorney thinks the tribe shall part of in order her response to make good a judgment against its worker.

That lawyer may be right. For company reasons, in the event that Mohegan tribe desires to retain good workers, it could be forced to spend cash damages granted by a us state court, as one tribe argued in a youthful instance. In cases where a tribe does not provide appropriate defenses to a member of staff, much just how other companies would, it may have chilling impact by exposing workers to undue danger.

The Mohegan Sun is among the two biggest casinos that are tribal-owned the usa. AP Photo/Jessica Hill