Supreme Court situation could expose Indian tribes to new risks that are legal
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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 as an appellate judge (Grand 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 connected to the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians being a member that is enrolled.


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

Accidents happen. And often those accidents include the staff of Indian tribes. The Supreme Court is planned to listen to a full situation that may rule on the the restrictions of legal resistance of tribes and their workers. The case could expose Indian tribes to unexpected – and significant – liability in state and federal courts Virginia online installment loans 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 – could be sued for an accident that took place even though the worker had been from the clock but away from Indian lands.

Being a scholar, We have examined the complexities of tribal sovereign resistance, tribal government-owned companies in addition to unique challenges Indian tribes face in federal and state courts. My research leads me personally to think the end result of this full instance is very important since it could set a precedent that could damage tribes’ capability to govern.

The backdrop

In late 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. Generally, under Connecticut legislation, hurt individuals have 2 yrs to register an injury that is personal in state court.

Under Mohegan legislation, but, the statute of restrictions duration is one year, maybe perhaps maybe not two. For reasons not yet determined when you look at the general public record, the Lewis few failed to bring a suit until couple of years following the event, in 2013. Because it had been far too late to sue in tribal court, they brought the suit to Connecticut courts.

And right right here’s the sc rub, legitimately 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’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 theory in 1788.

Counsel for the Lewis couple most most likely knew tribes take pleasure in the exact same resistance and thought we would sue the limo motorist alternatively regarding the tribe, the driver’s company at the time of the collision.

Accidental injury lawyers have a tendency to seek out deep pouches that will spend a million buck judgment, so a suit against a limo motorist doesn’t look like a fantastic strategy in the event that objective is just a payout that is large. It seems the Lewises’ attorney thinks the tribe shall part of to produce good a judgment against its worker.

That lawyer might be appropriate. For company reasons, in the event that Mohegan tribe really wants to retain employees that are good it could be obligated to spend cash damages granted by a us state court, as one tribe argued in a youthful situation. In cases where a tribe does not provide legal defenses to a member of staff, much just how other organizations would, it may have effect that is chilling exposing workers to undue risk.

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