Supreme Court instance could expose Indian tribes to brand brand new legal dangers

Supreme Court instance could expose Indian tribes to brand brand new legal dangers

Professor of Law & Director associated with Indigenous Law & Policy Center, Michigan State University

Disclosure statement

Matthew L.M. Fletcher works for eight Indian tribes being 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 could be connected to the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians being an enrolled user.

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Michigan State University provides capital as a founding partner associated with the Conversation US.

Accidents happen. And quite often those accidents involve the workers of Indian tribes. The Supreme Court is scheduled to listen to situation which will rule on the the restrictions of appropriate immunity of tribes and their workers. Though it handles a slim concern in an injury lawsuit, the situation could expose Indian tribes to unanticipated – and significant – liability in state and federal courts to which tribes are strangers.

The Supreme Court will address whether a tribal casino employee – in this case, a limo driver – can be sued for an accident that occurred while the employee was on the clock but outside of Indian lands in Lewis v. Clarke.

As a scholar, We have examined the complexities of tribal sovereign resistance, tribal government-owned organizations while the unique challenges Indian tribes face in federal and state courts. My research leads us to think the results associated with the full situation is essential as it could set a precedent that will 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 couple within 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, nevertheless, the statute of limitations duration is certainly one 12 months, perhaps perhaps maybe not two. The Lewis couple did not bring a suit until two years after the incident, in 2013 for reasons not clear in the public record. Because it had been far too late to easy installment loans in Indiana sue in tribal court, they brought the suit to Connecticut courts.

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

Counsel for the Lewis couple most most likely knew tribes benefit from the exact same resistance and decided to sue the limo motorist rather associated with tribe, the driver’s company during the time of the collision.

Accidental injury lawyers have a tendency to seek out deep pouches that may spend a million dollar judgment, so a suit against a limo motorist doesn’t appear to be an absolute strategy in the event that goal is a payout that is large. It seems the Lewises’ attorney thinks the tribe shall part of in order to make good a judgment against its worker.

That lawyer might be appropriate. For company reasons, in the event that Mohegan tribe would like to retain good workers, it may possibly be forced to spend cash damages granted by a us state court, as one tribe argued in an early on instance. In cases where a tribe does not provide appropriate defenses to a member of staff, much the way in which other companies would, it might have effect that is chilling exposing workers to undue danger.

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

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