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

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

Disclosure statement

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


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

Accidents happen. And quite often those accidents include the workers of Indian tribes. The Supreme Court is scheduled to know instance which will rule on the the limitations of appropriate immunity 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.

In Lewis v. Clarke, the Supreme Court will address whether a tribal casino worker – in this instance, a limo driver – could be sued for an accident that took place as the worker had been regarding the clock but outside of Indian lands.

Being a scholar, I have examined the complexities of tribal sovereign resistance, tribal government-owned organizations additionally the unique challenges Indian tribes face in federal and state courts. My research leads us to think the results for the full situation is very important since it could set a precedent that could damage tribes’ ability to govern.

The back ground

In belated 2011, a Mohegan Sun Casino limousine motorist rear-ended Brian and Michelle Lewis’ car on I-95 near Norwalk, Connecticut, injuring the few into the collision. Typically, under Connecticut law, hurt men and women have 2 yrs to file a injury claim in state court.

Under Mohegan legislation, nevertheless, the statute of limits duration is certainly one 12 months, maybe perhaps not two. For reasons unclear when you look at the general public record, the Lewis few would not bring a suit until couple of years following the event, in 2013. As it ended up being far too late to sue in tribal court, they brought the suit to Connecticut courts.

And right 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.” American constitutional law teaches that federal and state governments is not sued in court absent their consent, a doctrine that predates the forming of the Constitution. Certainly, Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Paper No. 81 lay out this concept in 1788.

Counsel for the Lewis couple most most likely knew tribes benefit from the same resistance and decided to sue the limo driver instead of this tribe, the driver’s boss at the time of the collision.

Injury lawyers have a tendency to seek out deep pouches that will spend a million buck judgment, so a suit against a limo motorist does not look like a fantastic strategy in the event that objective is really a big payout. It seems the Lewises’ attorney thinks the tribe will step up which will make good a judgment against its worker.

That lawyer may be appropriate. For company reasons, in the event that Mohegan tribe really wants to retain employees that are good it could be forced to spend cash damages awarded by a us state court, as one tribe argued in a youthful instance. In cases where a tribe does not provide appropriate defenses to a worker, much just how other companies would, it may have chilling impact by exposing workers to undue risk.

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