Supreme Court case could expose Indian tribes to brand new risks that are legal

Supreme Court case could expose Indian tribes to brand new risks that are legal


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

Disclosure statement

Matthew L.M. Fletcher works well with 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 for the 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 an enrolled user.


Michigan State University provides money as a founding partner for the Conversation US.

The discussion UK gets funding from all of these organisations

Accidents happen. And often those accidents include the staff of Indian tribes. The Supreme Court is planned to listen to situation that will rule regarding the the limitations of appropriate resistance 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.

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.

Being a scholar, i’ve examined the complexities of tribal sovereign immunity, tribal government-owned organizations together with unique challenges Indian tribes face in federal and state courts. My research leads us to think the end result associated with full instance is essential since it could set a precedent that could damage tribes’ ability to govern.

The back ground

In belated 2011, a Mohegan Sun Casino limousine driver rear-ended Brian and Michelle Lewis’ car on I-95 near Norwalk, Connecticut, hurting the few when you look at the collision. Generally, under Connecticut legislation, hurt men and women have couple of years to register a accidental injury claim in state court.

Under Mohegan legislation, nonetheless, the statute of limits duration is the one year, maybe maybe not two.

For reasons not yet determined when you look at the public record, the Lewis few would not bring a suit until couple of years following the event, in 2013. They brought the suit to Connecticut courts since it was too late to sue in tribal court.

And here’s the sc rub, lawfully talking: Indian tribes can’t 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’t be sued in court absent their consent, a doctrine that predates the formation 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 thought we would sue the limo motorist rather associated with the tribe, the driver’s boss during the time of the collision.

Injury lawyers have a tendency to look for deep pouches that will spend a million buck judgment,

So a suit against a limo motorist does not look like an absolute strategy in the event that goal is a big payout. It seems the Lewises’ attorney thinks the tribe will step up which will make good a judgment against its worker.

That attorney might be appropriate. For company reasons, if the Mohegan tribe really wants to retain employees that are good it may possibly be obligated to spend cash damages granted by a us state court, as one tribe argued in an early on instance. If your tribe does not provide appropriate protections to a member of staff, much the way in which other companies would, it might have a chilling impact by exposing workers to undue danger.

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


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