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

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

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

Disclosure statement

Matthew L.M. Fletcher works for eight Indian tribes being an appellate judge (Grand 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 as a member that is enrolled.


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

Accidents happen. And often the employees are involved by those accidents of Indian tribes. The Supreme Court is planned to listen to instance which will rule regarding the the limitations of appropriate resistance of tribes and their workers. Though it relates to a slim question 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, i’ve examined the complexities of tribal immunity that is sovereign tribal government-owned companies plus the unique challenges Indian tribes face in federal and state courts. My research leads us to think the results associated with the instance is very important as it could set a precedent that will damage tribes’ capability 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, injuring the couple into the collision. Ordinarily, under Connecticut legislation, hurt men and women have couple of years to register an injury that is personal in state court.

Under Mohegan legislation, but, the statute of restrictions duration is certainly one 12 months, perhaps perhaps 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. They brought the suit to Connecticut courts since it was too late to sue in tribal court.

And right right here’s the sc rub, lawfully talking: Indian tribes can not be sued in state court without their permission. This provision is what’s known as “sovereign immunity.” Us constitutional legislation teaches that federal and state governments can 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 lay out this concept in 1788.

Counsel when it comes to Lewis couple most likely knew tribes benefit from the immunity that is same made a decision to sue the limo motorist alternatively for the tribe, the driver’s manager at the time of the collision.

Personal injury lawyers tend to seek out deep pouches 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 goal is a big payout. It seems the Lewises’ attorney thinks the tribe will part of to help 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 employees that are good it might be obligated to spend cash damages granted by a us state court, as one tribe argued in an early on situation. If your 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 tribal-owned gambling enterprises in the usa. AP Photo/Jessica Hill