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

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


Professor of Law & Director regarding the native 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 regarding 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 could be associated with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians being an enrolled user.


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Accidents happen. And quite often the maximus money loans employees are involved by those accidents of Indian tribes. The Supreme Court is planned to listen to situation that may rule regarding the the restrictions of legal resistance of tribes and their staff. Though it handles a slim concern in an injury lawsuit, the way it is 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 being a scholar, I have examined the complexities of tribal immunity that is sovereign tribal government-owned organizations therefore the unique challenges Indian tribes face in federal and state courts. My research leads me personally to believe the end result associated with the full instance is very important as it could set a precedent that would damage tribes’ ability to govern.

The backdrop

In belated 2011, a Mohegan Sun Casino limousine driver rear-ended Brian and Michelle Lewis’ car on I-95 near Norwalk, Connecticut, hurting the couple when you look at the collision. Ordinarily, under Connecticut legislation, hurt folks have 2 yrs to register an injury that is personal in state court.

Under Mohegan legislation, nevertheless, the statute of restrictions duration is certainly one 12 months, perhaps not two.

For reasons unclear within the general public record, the Lewis few failed to bring a suit until 2 yrs following the event, in 2013. As it ended up being too late to sue in tribal court, they brought the suit to Connecticut courts.

And right here’s the sc rub, lawfully speaking: Indian tribes can’t 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 formation of the Constitution. Certainly, Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Paper No. 81 lay out this concept in 1788.

Counsel for the Lewis couple most likely knew tribes benefit from the immunity that is same made a decision to sue the limo driver rather of this tribe, the driver’s boss at the time of the collision.

Accidental injury lawyers tend to seek out deep pouches that may spend a million dollar judgment,

So a suit against a limo motorist does not look like a winning strategy in the event that objective is just a large payout. It seems the Lewises’ lawyer thinks the tribe shall step up in order to make good a judgment against its worker.

That lawyer may be appropriate. For business reasons, in the event that Mohegan tribe would like to retain good employees, it might be obligated to spend money damages granted by a us state court, as one tribe argued in a youthful situation. In case a tribe doesn’t provide appropriate defenses to a member of staff, much just how other organizations 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